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What Happens If Cataracts Are Left Untreated?

In most cases, cataracts will continue to worsen over time, causing continual reduction of vision. Driving can be affected — which could be dangerous — and so can overall quality of life.

Many people become legally blind from untreated cataracts, and cataracts can even cause total blindness if left untreated for long periods.

It's impossible to accurately predict how quickly a cataract will worsen. If you notice your vision is getting worse prior to your next regularly scheduled eye exam, don't wait — see your eye doctor and have your vision checked.

Woman talking things over with her doctor.
If you're tempted to put off your cataract surgery, discuss it with your eye doctor. It's usually better to have the surgery as soon as possible instead of waiting months or years.

In some cases, a change of your eyeglass prescription may improve your vision if your cataract is worsening; other times it will not. Also, applying anti-reflective coating to your eyeglasses may provide a noticeable improvement in your night driving vision if you have mild cataracts.

If you aren't sure if your cataract is bad enough to have surgery or if Medicare will pay for it, consult with your eye doctor or cataract surgeon.

Untreated cataracts can become "hyper-mature" — a condition that makes them more difficult to remove and more likely to cause cataract surgery complications.

Generally, for better outcomes, cataract surgery should be performed soon after vision problems develop rather than waiting many months or years.

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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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