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Can I Get LASIK If I Have Cataracts?

By Meagan Drillinger
Medically Reviewed by Eric Donnenfeld, MD, and member of the Refractive Surgery Council editorial advisory board on December 07, 2020

If you’re one of the millions (yes, millions) of Americans who have refractive errors in their vision (nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism), you may have toyed with the idea of having LASIK surgery. But what if you’re one of the 24.4 million Americans age 40 and older who also have cataracts?

If you have a cataract, the lens within your eye becomes cloudy, and vision can become obscured as if looking through a dirty windshield.

LASIK corrects refractive errors by reshaping the cornea of the eye with an excimer laser, but if there is a cataract, LASIK will not correct the blurriness caused by this disorder. “About half of LASIK patients have cataracts of some form,” says Dr. Jason Brinton, MD, specialist in LASIK and vision correction surgery. “Many people have cataracts their whole life, which are mild and do not affect their vision,” Dr. Brinton says. After cataract surgery many patients will require glasses to see clearly. These patients may be good candidates for LASIK.

It’s important to note that there are several different types of FDA-approved refractive surgery procedures, in addition to LASIK, though most people use the term LASIK as an umbrella term to encompass all refractive surgery procedures. So the question becomes, do you want to get out of contacts and see clearly? If the answer is yes, there is often a refractive procedure available to you, should LASIK not be an option.

For someone who has congenital cataracts, which is a clouding of the lens present at birth, or cataracts that perhaps are off to the side, the specific LASIK procedure is a safe option. For someone who has age-related cataracts, where there is a significant impairment of their ability to see, the specific LASIK procedure may not be appropriate. That said, a different refractive procedure, like cataract surgery, could be an alternative option to correct vision.

For many patients who are not candidates for LASIK, refractive lens exchange (RLE) is a procedure that replaces your eye’s clear natural lens with a n artificial intraocular lens (IOL).

The only way to determine whether or not LASIK is not an option is to see a surgeon, who can determine the severity of the cataract and whether or not LASIK would be a viable option.

"This year we are doing more refractive lens exchange and cataract surgeries than LASIK," Dr. Brinton says. "If [what you want is to get out of glasses], the majority of all refractive surgeries in the country are done on people who have cataracts."