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  • Macular Degeneration and Cataract Surgery: Are They Compatible?

    Written By: Kierstan Boyd
    Jul. 24, 2017

    Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a frustrating condition that diminishes your ability to see detail clearly. When you combine AMD’s loss of central vision with the blurriness from cataracts, you have a recipe for significant vision loss.

    Can you have cataract surgery to restore some clear vision if you have macular degeneration? The answer is probably yes . . . but there are some factors your ophthalmologist will consider first.

    Find Out Which Condition Impacts Your Vision Most

    Before recommending cataract surgery, your ophthalmologist will want to find out whether most of your vision loss is caused by the cataract or by the AMD. Some people who have a lot of damage to their retina from macular degeneration won’t see much or any vision improvement from cataract surgery.

    Photograph of someone reading with a magnifying glass

    Your ophthalmologist will examine your retina and take photographs to assess its condition. They will also take a look at how cloudy your lens is to see how much vision the cataract may be blocking. And before recommending cataract surgery, your ophthalmologist will check your vision to see if a change in your eyeglass prescription or even low vision magnifiers may be enough to see better.

    Having cataract surgery with AMD may not restore your ability to do up-close tasks, such as reading. Removing the cataract will allow more light to enter the eye, but that may not be enough for good central vision. We need a clear lens and a healthy retina for sharp vision.

    Does Having Cataract Surgery Make AMD Worse?

    Depending on the type of AMD you have, the answer is not fully known at this point.

    If you have the “dry” form of AMD, there is no evidence that cataract surgery will make your AMD worse. However, if you have the “wet” form, it is not clear if cataract surgery will negatively affect your macular degeneration. Cataract surgery causes inflammation inside the eye, which in theory could make wet AMD worse. However, results of multiple studies have been inconsistent, so we don’t know for sure if cataract surgery worsens wet AMD.

    Photograph of older couple reading together

    On the positive side, there is no evidence that having cataract surgery will make you more likely to develop dry or wet AMD if you don’t already have it.

    Fortunately, for those struggling with the double whammy of vision loss from both AMD and cataracts, studies have shown that cataract surgery can improve vision in those who are candidates for the procedure. You and your ophthalmologist can discuss your options for achieving better sight.