December 8, 2021

Tell me the truth: Are cataracts painful?

A laser is used to break the lens apart during cataract surgery in Northeast Pennsylvania

You might wonder: can cataracts cause eye pain? The simple answer is that typically cataracts aren’t painful, but that doesn’t mean you won’t experience a variety of symptoms. The most notable symptom involves vision loss, but you might also experience difficulty seeing in low light, fading colors, and seeing halos. If you’re worried about cataracts clouding your vision and fear that the surgery is painful, rest assured you’re in good hands when you have your procedure performed by board-certified surgeons at Northeastern Eye Institute.

How painful is cataract surgery?

A laser is used to break the lens apart during cataract surgery in Northeast Pennsylvania

Image used with permission via Unsplash

Cataract surgery is the only way to treat cataracts effectively. No medication can undo cataracts, nor can eyewear completely counteract its effects. When you undergo cataract surgery, the surgeon opens up a flap in your cornea. Before you have the surgery, you’ll receive numbing eye drops so you won’t feel any pain during the procedure. Once the flap opens, the surgeon breaks the lens apart either with a laser or high-frequency sound waves.

The lens pieces are removed to make room for a synthetic lens called an intraocular lens (IOL). These lenses are made out of acrylic or silicone and are highly durable. After the IOL is in place, the flap to the cornea is closed. You don’t need stitches since the tissue attaches itself.

After you have cataract surgery, the recovery is relatively straightforward. You might experience a day or two of itching, mild discomfort, blurry vision, and sensitivity to light. For a few weeks after the procedure, you might need to use eye drops to help your eye heal and prevent infection. During that time, try to avoid touching your eyes, lifting heavy objects, bending over, and doing anything that might risk injuring your eye. Your eye should heal completely within eight weeks, but you should be able to resume your daily activities as soon as a day after the surgery.

If you need cataract surgery on both eyes, your surgeon might schedule the procedures several months apart. Separating the surgeries will give your eyes enough time to heal and minimize the disruption in your life. Since the lens implants are permanent, they usually don’t need to be replaced. In certain rare instances, you might develop a secondary cataract. Months or years after the surgery, you might experience build-up on the surface of your artificial lens and experience cloudy vision.

What will happen if cataracts are left untreated?

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, almost 25 million people in the United States over 40 are affected by cataracts. More than half of Americans experience them by the age of 75. Cataracts grow in the lens of the eye, and sometimes they can take decades to develop. You might not notice them immediately, but they will soon impact your vision. A build-up of proteins forms in the lens of your eye and clumps together. They most often develop in your eye’s lens as you get older.

As cataracts age, they become “mature” and gradually affect your vision. If they’re left untreated too long, cataracts can cause significantly impaired vision or even blindness. The longer cataracts develop, the greater their chance of becoming “hyper-mature,” which means they’re tougher and more complicated to remove. The good news is that cataracts are easily treated, so if you notice that you’re experiencing vision problems, consult your doctor to determine if you have cataracts. The doctor can determine if you’re experiencing cataracts during an eye examination and schedule surgery if needed.

Do cataracts cause headaches?

While a cataract might cause pain in the eye, it doesn’t usually cause headaches. However, some people experience a correlation between headaches and cataracts. In the early stages, cataracts don’t usually interfere with your vision much. Once they become more severe and your vision becomes cloudier, you might have difficulty seeing and work harder to see clearly. You might end up squinting and holding material closer to your face. As a result, you might develop headaches related to eye strain.

Also, if you’re already prone to headaches, your headaches might be worse after you have cataracts. However, it’s important to note that cataracts don’t specifically cause headaches, but they can indirectly cause them. They also don’t cause ocular migraines since they are caused by a reduction in blood flow in the eye’s blood vessels.

You’re also unlikely to experience headaches as a result of cataract surgery. It’s not a typical complication from the procedure, but if you do experience headaches, it’s likely from dry eyes, general pain in the eye, or other vision issues. You can usually manage these temporary headaches with over-the-counter medication.

Can you prevent cataracts from forming?

Although developing cataracts is a typical aspect of aging, you can take preventative steps to protect your eye health and slow down the process. Some of these steps include the following:

  • Schedule regular eye exams. This includes having your eyes dilated once every two years once you reach 60 years of age. These exams can help detect cataracts and other eye problems in the early stages.
  • Wear sunglasses and a hat when outdoors. Doing so can keep the sun out of your eyes, and ultraviolet light might contribute to the development of cataracts.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking is associated with a significantly higher risk of cataracts.
  • Choose a healthy diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables. Adding a colorful mix of fruits and vegetables ensures that you’re getting a blend of vitamins and nutrients. These foods also have antioxidants, which can maintain eye health. 

At the Northeastern Eye Institute, our board-certified eye surgeons can treat cataracts thanks to our innovative laser surgery or ultrasound-based extraction. This outpatient procedure typically requires no stitches and lets you return home the same day as the surgery. As the leading provider of cataract extraction surgery in the Hazleton, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and the northeastern Pennsylvania region, we use premier IOLs to help you become less dependent on glasses. Reach out to us today, and let us schedule your cataract surgery so you can be on your way to a clearer future.