A questionnaire was sent to 379 patients referred for cataract extraction, asking them to assess their visual disability and their need for surgery. Two hundred and seventy-nine patients (73.6%) answered the questionnaire, this group being representative for the 379 patients regarding all relevant variables. The patient's answers were analyzed in relation to data extracted from their referral notes (visual acuity, monocular pseudophakia, age, sex, place of residence, referring ophthalmologist). The overall level of self-reported visual problems and need for cataract surgery were significantly correlated to a reduced best-eye visual acuity, although the correlation factor was low. A similar correlation between the subjective need for surgery and a worst-eye visual acuity < or = 6/24 was also found. Forty-seven patients (16.9%) answered that cataract surgery was not needed for the time being, and this attitude was not significantly correlated to the visual acuity, provided the acuity was > or = 6/24 in the best eye and > or = 6/36 in the worst eye. One hundred and twenty patients (43.0%) felt that their visual disability was so severe that they had to be operated within 1 month and 67 patients (24.0%) within 3 months, while 45 patients (16.1%) felt that surgery could be postponed for at least 6 months. Age, sex, place of residence and the presence of monocular pseudophakia were not found to significantly influence the level of self-reported visual problems. Only 18.3% preferred to be treated as out-patients.