Can Laser Eye Surgery Cause Cataracts? 

No.  The bottom line is that LASIK does not cause cataracts and cataracts can be treated for a person who has had LASIK in the past.  If a patient currently has cataracts that are affecting vision, then LASIK is not recommended, and the patient should have cataract surgery instead.

If you are considering LASIK and have questions or concerns related to cataracts you may be looking for a more in-depth explanation.  If so, great!  That’s what this post will be all about.

Cataracts are one of the most commonly known and eye problems that Eye Doctors treat, so chances are you said “yes” to that question.  You may even know someone or know of someone who has had a cataract surgery.  Every year in the United States there are approximately 3 million cataract surgeries performed, making cataract surgery one of the most commonly performed surgeries in the US.

Let’s start with defining what a cataract is, then we will look at how a cataract is treated, and lastly we will unpack the things that you should know about cataracts if you are considering LASIK surgery.

Cataracts are a problem with the crystalline lens of the eye, which is located directly behind the iris (the colored part of the eye).  The lens, along with the Cornea, refracts light to focus light rays to a clear image on the retina.  When the lens is healthy, it is clear, allowing for light to pass thru the lens and be focused by the lens onto the retina.

When a cataract develops, it means that, for a number of possible reasons, the lens has developed opacities in it that prevent light from passing thru the lens.  Cataracts can be congenital (from birth), traumatic (from an eye accident), or they can be age-related.

Very rarely babies are born with a cataract in one or both eyes, and sometimes a cataract can develop in a younger child as well.  The causes for these types of cataracts in newborns or young children include infections or diseases in the mother during pregnancy, drug reactions, metabolic problems, or trauma to name just a few.  Also, traumatic injuries like getting hit in the eye can sometimes cause a cataract as well.

The vast majority of cataracts in the general population are age-related cataracts.  It is estimated that by the time we are in our 80’s, half of the population will have either developed cataracts or have had cataract surgery.

The crystalline lens is made of water and proteins that are arranged in a particular pattern so that light can pass thru the lens.  As a person ages, the protein fibers can become lumped together, clouding an area of the lens that can grow and cloud the entire lens making vision blurry.  Other than advanced age, some of the additional risk factors for cataracts include: smoking (doubles the risk), hypertension, diabetes, sunlight or other sources of UV light, prolonged use of corticosteroids medications, family history, excessive alcohol consumption, and family history of cataracts.

While no firm understanding exists as to why cataracts develop, one of the more popular theories is that it has to do with oxidative changes in the lens.  This theory is supported by a number of nutritional studies that have been done to determine the effect of antioxidants on preventing cataracts which have found a correlation between higher intakes of antioxidant vitamins and decreased risks of cataract.

When a cataract develops to the point where it significantly impairs vision, the treatment is a surgery to remove the natural lens and put an artificial lens (called an IOL) in its place as a replacement.  Today, cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure with rapid visual recovery and minimal side effects and risks of complication.  While cataract surgery is considered to be a very safe procedure, it is worth noting for patients considering LASIK that LASIK is considered a safer procedure than cataract surgery, because LASIK does not enter the eye and cataract surgery does.

Cataract surgery, like LASIK, has advanced significantly over the years, and today many surgeons have adopted advanced ways of performing cataract surgery that include lasers to perform steps in the cataract removal and specialized lenses to help improve a person’s vision without glasses or contact lenses after the cataract surgery.  Also, LASIK is sometimes performed after cataract surgery to improve the quality of a person’s vision without glasses or contacts.  All this means that for many patients, their vision without glasses is actually better than before they developed cataracts.

If you are considering LASIK to potentially get out of your glasses and/or contact lenses, there are some things that you should be aware of related to cataracts.

First, the LASIK procedure will in no way cause cataracts.  This is because LASIK is performed on the cornea, which is the clear dome on the front of the eye, and cataracts happen inside the eye – the clouding of the natural lens.

Next, when patients have LASIK, the surgeon will customarily prescribe the patient use a short-term steroid eye drop to control inflammation after the procedure.  These types of eye drops can theoretically cause cataracts, but only after long-term use of them.  Usually, patients use these drops for one week after LASIK, and steroid eye drops become a risk for cataracts only after using for much longer than that.

Lastly, it is important to know that while LASIK does not cause cataracts, it also will not prevent them from happening either.  They are separate things.  That said, when a patient has cataract surgery, the surgeon will do some calculations to determine the appropriate power of the replacement lens (IOL) to be used once the natural lens with a cataract is removed.  It will be helpful for the cataract surgeon to have some measurements of the patient’s eyes from before they had LASIK.  The cataract surgeon can work with the LASIK surgeon to obtain those measurements, and sometimes patients gather those measurements on a form like this one, and keep it in a safe place in case cataract surgery is needed in the future.

So that’s the scoop on cataracts and LASIK.  If you are considering LASIK, the most important components of having LASIK is to make sure that you are a good candidate for LASIK, and that you choose a LASIK provider where you are comfortable.  20/20 Institute LASIK Specialists provide complimentary consultation and evaluation appointments for you to learn about your LASIK candidacy and to meet with our doctors and staff to see if you feel like 20/20 Institute is the best place for you to have your LASIK.  Just give one of our experienced LASIK Counselor Technicians a phone call at 303.202.0669 or have one of them contact you to arrange for your complimentary LASIK Evaluation.