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When Are Cataracts Bad Enough To Require Surgery?


When is the "right time" to have cataract surgery? If you are noticing vision problems and have been told you have cataracts, it's likely your cataracts are bad enough to require surgery.

In some cases, people experience bothersome vision problems such as glare and halos at night even before their eye doctor notices significant clouding of the lenses in their eyes during a dilated eye exam. This condition — called dysfunctional lens syndrome — often is reason enough for many people to consider cataract surgery, especially if they need better visual acuity for driving at night.

Blurred scene of oncoming traffic at night.
If your night vision is blurry and headlight glare is bothersome when you drive, you may need cataract surgery.

However, financial considerations and insurance requirements also are factors when considering the best time to have cataract surgery.

Some insurance companies (including Medicare) consider cataract surgery to be "medically necessary" and a covered service only after the cataract has caused corrected visual acuity to be reduced below a specified level. Often, this criterion is 20/40 or worse (20/40 is the legal vision requirement to get an unrestricted driver's license in most states).

Be sure to review the details of your insurance policy with your insurance agent or your eye doctor's staff so you understand if your vision qualifies you for coverage of your cataract surgery as a medically necessary expense.

If you plan to pay for your cataract surgery completely out-of-pocket, you can have the procedure done at any time, provided your cataract surgeon feels you are a good candidate and that you will benefit from surgery. AAV

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Dr. Vance ThompsonAbout the Reviewer: Vance Thompson, MD, FACS, is the director of refractive surgery at Vance Thompson Vision in Sioux Falls, S.D. He also is professor of ophthalmology at the Sanford USD School of Medicine, a leading researcher in technologies for laser and implant vision correction and a member of All About Vision's editorial advisory board.

Page updated August 2017


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