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AARP The Magazine

The Truth About Cataracts and Cataract Surgery

En español l A new AARP-Alcon survey finds many are misinformed about cataract surgery. Here's the straight scoop if you or a parent is facing the procedure.

Cataracts surgery doctor (Paul Blow)

Cataract surgery can help restore your vision.

Myth: Cataract surgery is painful.

Fact: It can be uncomfortable but shouldn't hurt. After sedating you, the doctor will numb your eye, make a small incision through which the cataract can be broken up with ultrasound, and replace the clouded lens with a synthetic one. Four out of five people in the new AARP-Alcon Eye Health Study report that the surgery was easier than they had expected.

surgery calendar (Paul Blow)

Recovery from cataract surgery is quicker than you think.

Myth: I will be able to tell when I need surgery.

Fact: Most people with cataracts don't realize how cloudy their vision has become. Before surgery, most say cataracts don't interfere with their daily activities. But after the procedure, 62 percent find they're enjoying life more. Although the need for surgery tends to peak in those in their 60s and 70s, cataracts can develop much earlier.

Cataract surgery isn't as scary as you think.

Myth: Cataracts are unrelated to overall health.

Fact: "There are multiple links between systemic disease and the formation of cataracts," says Brian Proctor, D.O., an ophthalmologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, Illinois. Cataracts are a known side effect of diabetes and high blood pressure, for instance. The formation of cataracts is also associated with the use of steroid medications.

Driving (Paul Blow)

Seeing halos? You may have cataracts.

Myth: It's normal to see halos around lights.

Fact: Along with cloudy vision, halos are a classic symptom of cataracts, says Proctor. Four out of five people in the AARP-Alcon study who had cataract surgery found it easier to drive afterward, both during the daytime and at night. (Halos can be a sign of corneal disease, too; if you're seeing them, be sure to have your eyes checked.)

You may not need reading glasses after cataract surgery.

Myth: I'll need reading glasses after cataract surgery.

Fact: Not necessarily. Multifocal and "monovision" replacement lenses correct vision at various points, near and far, and can sometimes reduce the need for glasses. Medicare considers multifocal lenses an upgrade beyond standard replacement ones, however. So if you want the specialty lenses, plan on paying extra for them, out of pocket.

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