Once diagnosed with a cataract, many people’s first question is the best timing of when to have cataract surgery. However, while your optometrist or cataract surgeon is able to give you some guidance on the factors you might want to consider, you yourself are the best placed to decide when to have cataract surgery. Everyone’s situation is a little different, but for the most part, no one else can decide on the optimal timing of cataract surgery but you.
Factors to Consider for When to Have Cataract Surgery
So, you’ve just been told you have a cataract. Perhaps you had made an eye test appointment with your optometrist just as a matter of routine, or perhaps you were beginning to notice some deterioration in your vision. The diagnosis of a cataract can come as a surprise to some and is not an uncommon scenario as early cataracts typically don’t present with any noticeable symptoms.
Once diagnosing your cataracts, your optometrist or GP may have a discussion with you about when to have cataract surgery or may refer you straight to a cataract surgeon for that chat. Either way, here are some factors you may want to think about when considering cataract surgery.
Are your cataract symptoms bothering you?
The symptoms of a cataract can be varied depending on the location, type, and stage of your cataracts.
However, in addition to this, not everyone is bothered by the same visual symptoms, which is why you’re the only one who can answer this question.
For example, one person who enjoys birdwatching or stargazing will be much more impacted by a decline in their clarity of sight compared to someone who spends most of their time swimming or looking at a computer.
A truck driver who does long overnight drives may be particularly affected by the glare from their cataract, even if their visual acuity remains quite good.
If you’ve been diagnosed with cataracts but feel entirely unimpeded in your usual daily activities, in most cases, it is a better idea to postpone any cataract surgery until your cataracts become more visually significant.
Do you meet the vision requirements for holding a driver’s licence?
In Australia, the visual acuity requirement to hold a private vehicle licence is 6/12 on the letter chart with your two eyes open together. This vision standard can be achieved with your glasses or contact lenses if necessary. As your cataracts progress, you may find that your vision no longer meets this standard even after updating your glasses or contacts. At this point, your optometrist or cataract surgeon will most likely recommend you undergo cataract surgery, even if you personally feel comfortable with driving. Conversely, your visual acuity may be well within the requirements for licensing yet you feel unsafe when driving, possibly more so at night. If this is the case, you may wish to have cataract surgery done sooner rather than later.
Can you manage your cataracts with other solutions in the meantime?
In the earlier days of a developing cataract, you may find some changes to your sight that can easily be worked around. For example, it is not uncommon to find your ability to read print becomes more difficult if the lighting is poor. The simple solution to this is to bring your reading material to the window during the day or to consider the task or focal lighting wherever else you like to read.
Some cataracts can cause your spectacle or contact lens prescription to change. This prescription shift may make you more long-sighted, more short-sighted, or even alter your astigmatism. If simply updating your prescription restores your sight to a clarity you’re satisfied with, this is a viable alternative to cataract surgery. However, as the cataract continues to grow, eventually you may find that changing your glasses can no longer improve your sight to an adequate level. As cataracts can also cause rapid shifts to your script, it may not be financially practical to keep up with the cost of continually updating your glasses. At this point, cataract surgery may be the better solution.
Do you have any other financial, health, or other considerations to take into account?
The recovery period after cataract surgery is typically uneventful, and many people are able to resume their normal activities as early as within the week of their operation. However, if you have a holiday trip planned, you probably don’t want to have cataract surgery in the week just before you leave. Similarly, those with multiple medical conditions that need attention may want to prioritise the more severe or debilitating health issues before sorting out their cataracts with their cataract surgeon.
There are two avenues for cataract surgery in Australia – the public hospital system or a private cataract surgeon. Both approaches can provide quality cataract surgery, but each does have its own benefits and disadvantages. Cataract surgery is free through the public health system; however, the wait list can exceed 12 months in some hospitals. On the other hand, being seen by a private cataract surgeon can be as soon as a couple of weeks or even faster, but will cost you up to thousands of dollars, depending on your level of private health insurance.
If you have concerns about cataracts, speak to your optometrist or eye specialist.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.
Medical standards for licensing.
When is the right time to have cataract surgery?