Treatment Ophthalmology & Optometry


Glasses or contact lenses may correct minor vision problems caused by early stage cataracts. As the disease progresses, however, surgery — the only treatment for cataracts — may be necessary. Eye drops, exercise or glasses will not make the cataract disappear once it has formed.

Cataract surgery is usually an outpatient procedure and does not require an overnight stay in the hospital.


Phacoemulsification is a very common method for cataract surgery which uses ultrasound to help remove the cataract. During phacoemulsification, the cataract is removed and replaced with an artificial lens made of plastic, silicone or acrylic called an intraocular lens (IOL). The IOL becomes a permanent part of your eye and allows light to pass through and focus properly on the retina. Before it is inserted, your ophthalmologist will make a small incision in the side of your cornea. A tiny instrument that uses high-frequency ultrasound will be used to break up the cataract and suction it out. The IOL is then inserted and once in place, your surgeon will close the incision. Afterwards, a protective shield will be placed over your eye.

Refractive lens exchange

Refractive lens exchange (RLE) is similar to cataract surgery, but can be used for patients who do not have advanced cataracts. During the procedure, the ageing natural lens of the eye is replaced with a new intra-ocular lens that corrects nearsightedness and farsightedness, as well as vision problems caused by cataracts.

RLE is the treatment of choice for people over 50 or for those who have mild cataracts, as well as other vision problems that are too severe to be treated effectively or safely by laser eye surgery, such as LASIK.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.

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