Living with cataracts

Cataracts are a common eye condition, especially in older people. Cataract surgery is the most common elective surgery in the UK (Source: NICE). It's normal to worry when you're diagnosed with an eye condition. But there are ways to manage when living with cataracts and, when necessary, surgery can treat them. 

Cataract surgery is generally effective and straightforward, with around 330,000 cataract operations in England every year (Source: Royal College of Ophthalmologists). If you’re living with cataracts – perhaps while you’re waiting for an operation – here are some small changes that could help you carry on with daily activities, along with guidance on things like cataracts and driving.

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Recovery from cataract surgery

The main cataracts treatment option is surgery, but this doesn’t usually need to be straight away. If and when the time comes to discuss surgery, it’s important to decide to have it when it’s right for you, based on your symptoms and any other eye conditions you have.

The procedure itself is highly effective and should take less than an hour (Source: NHS). During the operation, the natural lens of your eye is replaced with an artificial one. This is usually done under local anaesthetic, so you should be able to go home the same day if it’s safe to do so. It can take a few days for your vision to return completely.

It’s likely that you’ll have some side effects for a few days after surgery. These can include a feeling of grittiness in your eye, redness and some watering (Source: NHS). Your eye may feel itchy, but it’s important not to rub it.

Try to take it easy after your operation. You should also follow your doctor's eye care advice and take any eye drops as instructed. You may also get an eye shield to wear in bed or when you’re washing your hair (Source: NHS). For a few days, you might need to avoid some things like rubbing your eye, lifting heavy objects, wearing eye makeup and swimming. 

You should make a full recovery in around four to six weeks. Your ophthalmologist will talk to you about re-starting activities, such as going back to work and driving, at a follow-up appointment.

If you need surgery in both eyes, this usually happens weeks or months apart to make sure the first eye is fully recovered.

Cataracts and driving

Whether or not you can drive with cataracts will depend on how much your vision is affected by the condition.

Your eye doctor should be able to talk to you about what to expect, especially if you're having cataract surgery. Generally, you should be ok to drive with cataracts if your eye doctor has confirmed this.

If your sight still meets the minimum required standard for driving, you don’t have to tell the DVLA you have cataracts. But you should have this confirmed by your ophthalmologist and continue to have your sight monitored with regular eye exams because things can change as cataracts develop.

After you’ve had cataract surgery, recovery to the minimum required standard is necessary before driving – so you’ll need to wait until then to get back behind the wheel. You may need new prescription lenses as well. Ask your doctor about this. 

Managing cataracts

Cataracts tend to develop gradually as you age and aren’t usually painful. They won't usually cause vision loss initially, but you'll probably start to notice clouding in your sight, which can be concerning. Regular eye tests are the best way to detect any eye health problem, as early symptoms might not be noticeable at first.

You might be able to manage with some slight adjustments like new prescription glasses, using stronger lighting for reading and work, and visual aids like magnifying lenses.

Regular appointments with a specialist eye doctor will allow them to monitor your cataracts and how they affect your sight, such as causing double vision or blurry vision. You should mention any changes you notice and how they affect your day-to-day life when you have your check-ups.

Cataracts and work 

Cataracts shouldn’t usually impact your day-to-day work, but they can – especially if your job involves a lot of screen time.

It may help to speak to your employer if you have cataracts. They’re responsible for making reasonable adjustments to help you manage at work. Talk to them about things that may help you, such as: 

  • Adjustments to lighting to help you see better
  • Aids such as a magnifying lens to help with reading
  • Time off for appointments and check-ups

It’s also a good idea to tell them if you’re going to have surgery so that you can plan ahead together. The time off you need afterwards will usually depend on the type of work you do.

For instance, if you drive to and from work or at work and need new prescription glasses, these will be ordered when your eyes have completely healed. If your job involves strenuous activity, you may also need a bit more time off. 

How to live with cataracts 

There are some reasonably small lifestyle changes you can make to help you manage with cataracts, such as:  

  • Stronger prescription eyeglasses
  • Using brighter lighting for reading at home and work
  • Using visual aids such as magnifying lenses
  • You can wear sunglasses to manage outdoors in bright light 

If you would prefer to watch the video without audio description, there is a non-described version here rather than the accessible one above.

If you find cataracts are making everyday activities such as reading, watching TV, working, and driving more difficult, you may want to discuss cataract surgery with your doctor.

Surgery is the only effective treatment for cataracts. It’s very common and has a high success rate.

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Medically reviewed by: The Royal College of Ophthalmologists on 28/07/2022

Edited by: Nick Astbury FRCS FRCOphth FRCP
Clinical Associate Professor

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists champions excellence in the practice of ophthalmology and is the only professional membership body for medically qualified ophthalmologists. The RCOphth is unable to offer direct advice to patients. If you’re concerned about the health of your eyes, you should seek medical advice from your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.

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