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When to Consider Cataract Surgery: Coronavirus Update

Jun 15, 2020
 Deciding when to get cataract surgery as an older adult has always been a judgment call between a patient and their doctor. That's because a cataract, or clouding of the eye's lens, progresses over time as part of the aging process.

Now, the COVID-19 pandemic is posing even more questions about the timing of cataract surgery. Can you still get cataract surgery? If so, when should you? There's no one-size-fits-all answer. But many states have lifted COVID-19 restrictions on elective surgeries, and with safety protocols securely in place at eye centers across the country, are once again an option.

"We're working with patients to determine whether scheduling or postponing surgery is most appropriate depending on two important factors: the need for care and their risk for severe illness from COVID-19."

Rachel Simpson, MD, John A. Moran Eye Center specialist

At Moran, patients must have a negative COVID-19 nasal swab three days before their scheduled surgery and then self-quarantine at home immediately after testing.

When to Have Cataract Surgery? It's All About Your Function Level

Having a cataract can be like looking through a foggy or dusty car windshield. Things may look blurry, hazy, or less colorful.

Given that cataracts develop gradually, can you get surgery too early, or too late?

"It's all about your function level," Simpson explains. "Unless your vision is severely compromised, there is no increased risk in delaying surgery." Your doctor will evaluate these things to help you decide when you should get cataract surgery:

  • How much is your loss of vision affecting safety and daily activities (such as driving, reading, cooking, watching TV, hobbies)?
  • What does a complete eye exam show, and how much vision can the surgeon restore when he or she removes the cataract?
  • How rapidly is your vision declining? Slow-growing cataracts may be less bothersome.

Simpson says regular exams to monitor changes in vision due to cataracts are a must.

"Ultimately, careful monitoring and good communication between patients and their doctors will usually result in a successful outcome when the time is right."

Telehealth/Virtual Care

While telehealth has been successfully used in many situations during COVID-19, patients still need an in-person visit to have their eyes evaluated for surgery.

"Telehealth is a good option for discussing the symptoms of a cataract, but an in-person examination is required before we can decide to schedule cataract surgery," said Simpson. "This is for several reasons, but specifically to make sure it is the cataract (and not something else) causing the decline in vision and that the eye is safe for surgery."

Tips to Delay Cataracts

Although you can't prevent cataracts, you can delay them by protecting your vision right now.

  • Wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight.
  • If you smoke, stop.
  • Eat leafy green vegetables, fruit, and other foods with antioxidants.
  • Make sure any chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure are under good control.
  • Get regular eye exams.