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Reston Hospital Center
Pediatric Emergency Room

Medications for Cataracts

The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your ophthalmologist if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your ophthalmologist, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your healthcare provider.

Surgery is the only treatment that will cure a cataract. Eye drops may help control the symptoms of cataracts and help you see more clearly until surgery is required. However, medications are rarely used in the treatment of cataracts; most patients decide to have surgery to remove the cataracts.

Prescription Medications

Phenylephrine or Other Pupil-Dilating Drops

If the cataract is small and central in the eye’s lens, dilating eye drops can be used to temporarily control the symptoms of cataracts and help you see better. The eye drops cause the pupils of the eyes to widen. When using these drops, your doctor may advise you to:

  • Wash hands before use.
  • Apply pressure to inside corner of eye with finger.
  • Continue pressure for one minute after placing drops in eye.
  • Close eye and keep closed for several minutes after application of drops.
  • Keep eye drop applicator tip clean. Do not let it touch your eye or eyelashes.
  • Wear sunglasses outdoors as bright light will likely be irritating to you.

Dilating eye drops should not be used with other eye drops unless your healthcare provider says it is safe.

Possible side effects may include, but are not limited to:

  • Burning or stinging of the eyes
  • Headache
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Pain, decreased vision, and nausea (which may be signs of an acute glaucoma attack, possibly initiated by the eyedrops)

If you develop any effects from the medication, talk to your doctor immediately.

When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider

You should contact your ophthalmologist and discuss having surgery for cataracts when your vision difficulties get to the point where:

  • You feel unsafe or uncomfortable
  • You are unable to perform normal daily tasks or activities, such as:
    • Reading
    • Driving
    • Watching television
    • Taking medications

Cataract surgery is much safer and more successful than in the past. Today some eye doctors and surgeons recommend having cataract surgery sooner rather than later, because delaying the surgery may make it more difficult to perform. Removing a cataract is rarely an emergency, therefore it should not be performed until you feel ready to have the surgery.

Special Considerations

For eye drops, usually one drop at a time is sufficient. If you have any questions, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how many drops you should use.

If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines:

  • Take the medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.
  • Plan ahead for refills if you need them.
  • Do not share your prescription medication with anyone.
  • Medications can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor if you are taking more than one medication, including over-the-counter products and supplements.

Revision Information

  • Cataract. American Optometric Association website. Available at: Accessed November 21, 2013.

  • Cataracts in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated August 31, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.

  • Facts about cataract. National Eye Institute (NEI) website. Available at: Updated September 2009. Accessed November 21, 2013.

  • What are cataracts? American Academy of Ophthalmology Eye Smart website. Available at: Accessed November 21, 2013.

  • What is a cataract? NIH Senior Health website. Available at: Accessed November 21, 2013.