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Can you treat cataracts without surgery?

Surgery is the only way to medically remove a cataract and treat the effect on your eyesight. But there are ways you can treat the symptoms of cataracts, especially during the early stages of development.

While non-surgical “treatments” won’t remove a cataract, they may be able to improve your visual comfort and quality of life for a period of time (until the cataract worsens).

SEE RELATED: What is a cataract?

Cataract surgery

Surgery is currently the only method of cataract treatment. In the U.S. alone, millions of patients undergo successful cataract surgeries every year.

In the early stages of cataracts, you may experience mild blurry vision or cloudiness. These effects slowly worsen as a cataract progresses over time. Once cataracts have a significant impact on your vision, an eye doctor will likely recommend surgery as the next step.

Cataract surgery replaces the cloudy lens inside your eye with a clear, artificial lens. This new lens — called an intraocular lens (IOL) — will usually provide you the same clear vision you had before cataracts developed.

Fortunately, modern forms of cataract surgery have a low risk of complications. In addition to traditional procedures, laser cataract surgery can further improve upon success rates.

A patient is completely relaxed and does not feel pain during any of these outpatient procedures.

SEE RELATED: Learn more about cataract surgery

Glasses for cataracts

Glasses can’t treat a cataract itself, but they can help ease some of your symptoms in the meantime.

One type of cataract can make people more nearsighted, regardless of whether they were already nearsighted or not. The primary symptom is blurry vision when you’re looking at something far away.

You may need more frequent updates to your glasses prescription if you have cataracts. This occurs when the cataract changes the shape of the lens inside your eye, affecting the way light focuses on the retina.

Blurred vision can be treated with glasses during this phase, but any haziness, fading of colors or other cataract symptoms will continue without surgery.

Eye drops for cataract

The only eye drops prescribed for cataracts are the medications given before and after cataract surgery to reduce the chance of infection and inflammation.

There are currently no eye drops available to treat or reduce the effects of cataracts — but there may be in the future.

In 2015, a team of scientists from UC San Francisco, the University of Michigan and Washington University in St. Louis identified a substance known as compound 29, which removed some of the cloudiness in the lenses of mice with cataracts. The researchers believe this discovery may someday lead to the development of an eye drop that could effectively treat cataracts. However, much more research and testing is needed before it’s considered for humans.

Natural treatments for cataract

Certain natural remedies for cataracts may slow the progression of a cataract after it starts. Specifically, the antioxidants in many fruits and vegetables may hinder the oxidation process that causes the lens to get cloudy — vitamins A, C and E in particular.

A handful of studies have hinted that patients might also benefit from nutritional supplements like lutein, bilberry and hyaluronic acid, but the evidence isn’t entirely clear yet.

Make sure to talk to your doctor before taking supplements or making dietary changes as a natural treatment for cataracts.

Marijuana and CBD are sometimes rumored to treat cataracts, but there is currently no evidence to suggest a positive effect on the eye’s lens.

Lifestyle changes

One of the simplest ways to slow down cataract development is to quit smoking. It isn’t easy, but quitting can be very beneficial for your eye health — and overall health. All forms of smoking or ingesting tobacco apply, including things like vape pens and chewing tobacco.

Certain chemicals in cigarettes and tobacco increase the speed of a process called oxidative stress in the body. Cataracts are the result of oxidation, so you'll naturally want to avoid things that bump up oxidative stress.

Additionally, healthy lifestyle choices like exercising, limiting junk foods, avoiding excess alcohol and reducing psychological stress can also reduce oxidative stress.

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