Vision by Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute

Understanding Cataract Surgery

Common Questions


We are frequently asked the following questions about cataracts and our treatment. If you have additional questions or would like clarification, please contact us.

  • Cataracts

  • +What is a cataract?

    A cataract is a cloudiness that develops in the clear lens of the eye. Usually, this cloudiness worsens until it scatters or blocks the light trying to enter the eye and causes vision to become dim, blurry and distorted.

    A cataract is not a growth over the eye. It is the result of a chemical breakdown inside the clear lens of the eye. This breakdown is usually the result of the natural process of growing older. Most cataracts develop slowly and may take several years before seriously affecting a person’s vision.

    The word cataract means white water falling because it is like looking through white, frothy water. A person with cataracts cannot see clearly and colors may appear dim and faded.

  • +What is the lens and where is it located in the eye?

    Your lens, about the size of an aspirin, is located directly behind the dark center of the eye known as the pupil. It consists of a transparent capsule or outer covering filled with a clear gel-like material. The lens and cornea work together to focus light rays onto the retina at the back of the eye. 

  • +Are older people the only ones who get cataracts?

    No. Cataracts can develop at any age—even babies can be born with them—but the most common cause of cataracts is the aging process. Almost everyone, if they live long enough, will develop cataracts. 

  • +What causes cataracts?

    They are usually the result of one of the following:

      • Aging—natural changes taking place during the normal aging process 

      • Injury—a severe blow or deep cut to the eye

      • Birth defect—abnormal conditions in the eyes of unborn babies

      • Harmful factors—disease, radiation, toxic chemicals, certain medications
         and too much exposure to ultraviolet light

  • +Can they be prevented?

    Unfortunately, there is no known way to keep cataracts from forming or to stop them from growing once they have developed. But protecting your eyes from bright sunlight or ultraviolet rays and eating a healthy diet may help delay cataract formation. There is also some evidence that anti-oxidants such as vitamins A, C and E may help slow cataract development. 

  • +Do cataracts hurt?

    There are no nerves inside the lens of your eye, so the formation of cataracts does not generally cause pain, discomfort or redness. 

  • +Does watching TV cause them?

    No. There is no evidence that watching TV causes or speeds the growth of cataracts.

  • +How are they diagnosed?

    Your optometric physician usually discovers cloudiness beginning to form in the lens while checking your eyes during a routine eye examination. When this begins to interfere with normal daily activities, your eye doctor will usually recommend surgery.

  • +Are cataracts harmful to my eyes?

    No. They are not dangerous to the health of your eye unless they become “mature” and turn completely white. In this advanced stage, the cataract can cause inflammation and pain and should be removed immediately. 

  • +Is surgery the only treatment?

    As cataracts develop, they often cause the eye to become nearsighted. For a while, prescription changes in your eyeglasses may help you see better until the cataract worsens. At this point, if you want good clear vision again, the only option is surgery.

  • +How do I know if I should have cataract surgery?

    You most likely need surgery if:

      • You have been told by your eye doctor that you have a cataract

      • Your vision no longer meets your needs and interferes with daily activities

      • Your ability to see cannot be improved with glasses anymore 

      • Your eye doctor recommends surgical treatment

      • You want something done to improve your eyesight 

    Your optometric physician can discuss your options and help you decide if cataract surgery is the best choice for you. Only you and your doctor can decide when the time is right. 

  • +Do cataracts need to be ripe or mature before they are removed?

    Not anymore. Years ago, patients were encouraged to wait until their cataracts were fully developed—ripe or mature—and they were almost blind. At that time, surgical methods were so risky that treatment was put off as long as possible. But with the sophisticated equipment and surgical techniques we use today, it is easier on the eye, and better for vision to remove a cataract earlier instead of later.

  • Cataract Surgery

  • +Why is cataract surgery done?

    Surgery is recommended when your decreased eyesight causes daily frustration and is no longer working for you. Our goal is to restore your vision so you can see and do the things you enjoy.

  • +How do I know if cataract surgery can help me?

    If your vision is impaired by cataracts, but your eyes are healthy, removing the cloudy lenses will likely restore good vision. However, if you have retinal problems or other eye conditions, removing the cataracts may only improve your vision, not restore it. Examination and testing done before surgery will give our doctors a good indication of what your vision may be like after treatment.

  • +Can I have surgery if I have diabetes or glaucoma?

    Yes. If diabetes is adequately controlled, surgery is generally not a problem. Sometimes, the surgeon can perform an extra procedure at the same time as cataract surgery to help control the glaucoma.

  • +Are cataracts removed with a laser?

    A high-precision ultrasound probe—often confused with being a laser—is the instrument our surgeons prefer. This sophisticated medical device uses very high frequency vibrations to break up and remove cataracts. 

  • +Can surgery be done on both eyes at the same time?

    If you require surgery in both eyes, treatment will be scheduled at different times so you can see to get around since your eye may be closed for a few hours after surgery. 

  • +How safe is surgery?

    Cataract surgery is considered one of the safest surgeries today. A highly experienced cataract surgeon can successfully improve vision in over 99% of cases.

  • +Can I get AIDS from the surgery?

    No. There are no body fluids exchanged during this operation so AIDS is not a risk.

  • +Is cataract surgery always successful?

    No surgery can be guaranteed, but cataract surgery is considered one of the safest and most successful surgeries. With our gifted surgeons, the few complications that do occur are usually cared for without any permanent effects. However, this is a major surgical procedure, and there is always the slight chance that a complication could result in loss of vision. 

  • +What if I decide to live with my cataracts?

    Many people live with cataracts for years, unaware that their vision is slowly dimming. If for some reason you choose to put up with this decreased vision for a while, the following advice may be helpful:

      • Limit night time activities

      • Use brighter light bulbs

      • Use night lights

      • Limit driving to daylight hours

      • Use stronger eyeglasses

      • Read large print books 

      • Stay close to familiar surroundings

      • Wear sunglasses outdoors to minimize glare

      • Get help with medications to avoid mistakes

      • Use a phone with over-sized number keys 

      • Use handrails, canes or other aids to prevent falls

  • The Surgery Experience

  • +Do I need to stop my regular medications before surgery?

    No. It is not necessary to discontinue regular medications. If you are diabetic, please continue your routine diet and medicines.

  • +What can I expect before surgery?

    When you arrive at our surgery center, you should already have had a thorough eye examination from your family eye doctor. However, before surgery, your eye will be dilated and our doctor will perform additional testing to:

      • Find out how well you can see in bright light 

      • Estimate what your vision may be like after cataract surgery 

      • Measure your eye to calculate the power of lens implant needed

  • +Can I eat and drink before surgery?

    Yes. There is no reason to change your normal eating routine. In fact, we encourage you to eat a light breakfast or lunch before surgery.

  • +Can I wear make-up and hairspray?

    We ask that you not wear eye make-up on the day of treatment, since the area around your eye will be carefully wiped with a sterile solution. But you may wear hairspray.

  • +What should I wear?

    Please wear comfortable, clean street clothing. 

  • +Does everyone get the same lens implant?

    Most people choose a standard single-focus lens implant that is specially selected for their eye. However, some individuals who are highly motivated to become less dependent on glasses elect to pay extra for special lens implants that can reduce their need for corrective eyewear.

  • +Can I have something to help me relax?

    If you are particularly nervous or anxious, the nurse can give you medication to help you relax, but most people do not need anything.

  • +Does the surgery hurt?

    No. Your eye will be numb, so you will feel little or no discomfort—but you may feel the surgeon’s hands brush against or rest on your forehead. After surgery, you may experience some minor discomfort as the anesthesia wears off.

  • +Will I be put to sleep?

    No, you will be awake throughout the procedure. Eye drops will numb the surface of your eye to allow anesthesia to be gently administered to the surrounding tissue. You may feel a slight warmth as the anesthesia is given.

  • +Can family and friends watch my surgery?

    Yes. There is a comfortable viewing area with a glass wall looking into the surgical suite. We encourage your family and friends to stay close to you and watch your surgery. A host or hostess will explain what is happening as the surgery is viewed on a TV monitor.

  • +How can I keep my eye from moving and blinking?

    The anesthesia will temporarily immobilize the muscles around your eye so you cannot move it.

  • +What happens after my eye is numbed?

    After relaxing a few minutes, you will walk into the surgery suite and sit in a reclining chair. The area around your eye will be carefully draped for surgery and a natural tear-like solution will be gently sprayed on your eye to keep it from drying out during surgery. 

  • +What if I have to cough?

    If you need to cough or sneeze during surgery, kindly tell the surgeon so he can be prepared. If you have a ticklish throat, tell the nurse before your treatment so she can give you something to suppress your cough.

  • +How long will surgery take?

    With the skill and experience of our surgeons, cataract surgery usually takes about 10 minutes. However, the more dense and hard the cataract, the longer it takes to remove.

  • +What will I see and hear?

    Since your unoperated eye will be covered, you will glimpse only hand movements and shadows during surgery. You will hear the hum of the ultrasound machine and may feel the surgeon’s hands resting on your forehead.

  • The Lens Implant

  • +What is a lens implant?

    It is a tiny artificial lens that is carefully positioned inside the eye to replace the clouded lens that was removed. These implants are made in a large range of focusing powers to fit each person’s eye. Because they are placed inside the eye, lens implants require no care or maintenance and last a lifetime. If you are either near or farsighted, the lens implant selected for your surgery often corrects this problem. In addition to regaining clear vision, your dependence on corrective lenses may be significantly reduced. 

  • +Why do I need an implant in my eye?

    Cataract surgery removes your eye’s natural lens, which accounts for about 40% of the eye’s focusing power. Without a replacement lens, you would be virtually blind and would see only light and shadows. The artificial lens implant replaces the focusing power of your original lens—as well as much of the correction in your glasses.

  • +How good will they make my vision?

    If your eyes are healthy and cataracts are the only thing inhibiting your vision, your approximate chances of achieving 20/20 or 20/40 vision with a standard single-focus lens implant are as follows. These general estimates may be inaccurate if you suffer from other eye disease or disorders.

    With 20/40 vision, you can legally drive without corrective lenses. If you have 20/40 vision you see at 20 feet what a person with normal vision can see at 40 feet.

  • +Can lens implants correct astigmatism?

    Yes, special implants are available that can compensate for this condition. Surgery options may also be available to reshape the surface of the eye. 

  • +What will implants not do?

    Standard single-focus implants cannot change focus from far to near. For this reason, you will probably need glasses after surgery for certain activities.

  • +What are multifocal lens implants?

    Unlike standard single-focus implants, several types of multifocal lens implants offer the possibility of seeing well at more than one distance—without reading glasses or bifocals. 

  • +Can multifocal lens implants eliminate my need for glasses?

    Multifocal lens implants are designed to help people see near, far, and in between. Although there are slight compromises in the vision they provide, multifocal lens implants allow most people to function most of the time without glasses.

  • +Will I feel the lens implant inside my eye?

    No. There are no nerve cells in the capsule where the lens is implanted, so you will not feel it.

  • +Can my eye reject it?

    Normally, the tissue inside the eye does not react to the lens implant. However, in the very rare instance that an eye does not tolerate it, the implant can usually be removed and replaced with a different type of lens.

  • +Do implants protect against ultraviolet rays?

    Yes. Lens implants are made to provide full ultraviolet protection against sunlight. This keeps harmful UV rays from damaging your eye.

  • +Will it ever need to be cleaned, removed or replaced?

    Once the lens implant is inside your eye, it does not need to be maintained. In the rare instance that there is a problem, it can be removed, replaced or repositioned.

  • After Surgery

  • +Will I wear an eye patch?

    Normally, your eyelid is simply taped closed until the anesthesia wears off. This prevents your eyelid from accidentally opening until you are able to blink.

  • +What can I expect after surgery?

    When your procedure is finished, you will be able to walk out of the surgical suite. Your eye may be closed for a few hours until the anesthesia wears off. As the muscles in the eye begin to wake up, there may be some mild discomfort or a little achy feeling in your eye. When you remove the eyelid tape, you may experience blurry or double vision until your eyes are able to work together. 

  • +When can I resume normal activities?

    You will want to take things a little easy for a day or two, but you may resume normal activities—except driving—as soon as your eye is open and working well. You can bend over, lift, golf, exercise, dance and bowl.

  • +Is there anything I shouldn’t do after surgery?

    For a few weeks after cataract surgery, you should not rub your eye. 

    We recommend that you not swim or hot tub for 1 week. Due to irritating chemicals, you should not perm your hair or get soap, shampoo and hairspray in your eye. Also, you should wear protective eyewear when playing contact sports or when you are around flying objects that could hit your eye. 

  • +How soon can I drive?

    When you are able to see clearly and are comfortable with your new vision, you may drive and return to work. If you are able to see 20/40 or better without glasses, you may want to have the corrective lenses restriction removed from your driver’s license.

  • +When will I need to see the doctor?

    Check-up schedules after cataract surgery vary, but the typical plan for follow-up exams is: 

       • The next day

       • One week after surgery

       • Four to six weeks after surgery

  • +What is involved in my follow-up care?

    It is very important that you keep all your follow-up appointments. 

    During these visits, the doctor will check your eyes to make sure that they are functioning properly and there is no sign of infection. When your eye has healed and stabilized, your optometric physician will prescribe a new lens for your glasses, if necessary.

  • +When will I be able to see?

    Vision after cataract surgery varies from person to person and from eye to eye. Soon after your operation, you may see noticeable improvement or your vision may be fuzzy. Both can be normal. Because it takes time for the eye to heal, it could be a few days before your vision clears. 

  • +How soon can I get new glasses?

    When your vision is no longer changing, your optometric physician can prescribe a new lens for your glasses. 

  • +What kind of vision can I expect?

    If cataracts are your main vision problem, your eyesight will usually be as clear after they are removed as it was before you developed cataracts. However, you may need glasses to fine-tune your vision for driving, reading or other activities.

  • +Can my cataract come back?

    No. It is not possible for a cataract to come back once it has been removed. However, in the months and years after surgery, about half of all cataract patients experience some reduction in vision as cells grow across the back of the clear capsular bag that holds the lens implant. Vision becomes fuzzy and dim much like it was with a cataract. This cloudiness is called a secondary cataract and is easily treated with the YAG laser. In one short visit, painless bursts of laser light create a tiny opening in the cloudy capsule to restore clear vision. 

  • +How soon can I have my second eye done?

    Generally, if there are no other eye problems, you may schedule surgery for the second eye within one to two weeks of the first eye.