What Are Cataracts?

Inside our eyes, we have a natural lens. The lens bends (refracts) light rays that come into the eye to help us see. The lens should be clear, like the top lens in the illustration.

Vision Problems with Cataracts

If you have a cataract, your lens has become cloudy, like the bottom lens in the illustration. It is like looking through a foggy or dusty car windshield. Things look blurry, hazy or less colorful with a cataract.

The definition of a cataract is a cloudy lens in the eye, whatever the cause may be. Here the cataract lens is compared to a natural clear lens.

The top lens is a clear, natural lens. The bottom lens shows clouding by cataract.

What Are the Symptoms of Cataracts?

Here are some vision changes you may notice if you have a cataract:

  • Having blurry vision
  • Seeing double (when you see two images instead of one)
  • Being extra sensitive to light
  • Having trouble seeing well at night, or needing more light when you read
  • Seeing bright colors as faded or yellow instead
Dull or yellowed vision from cataracts. Blurry or dim vision from cataracts. Distortion or doubled images from cataracts.
Dull or yellow vision
from cataracts.
Blurry or dim vision is
a symptom of cataracts.
Distortion or ghost images
from cataracts.

See a simulation of what vision with cataract looks like.

What Causes Cataracts?

Aging is the most common cause. This is due to normal eye changes that happen after around age 40. That is when normal proteins in the lens start to break down. This is what causes the lens to get cloudy. People over age 60 usually start to have some clouding of their lenses. However, vision problems may not happen until years later.

Other reasons you may get cataracts include:

  • having parents, brothers, sisters, or other family members who have cataracts
  • having certain medical problems, such as diabetes
  • having had an eye injury, eye surgery, or radiation treatments on your upper body
  • having spent a lot of time in the sun, especially without sunglasses that protect your eyes from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays
  • using certain medications such as corticosteroids, which may cause early formation of cataracts.

Most age-related cataracts develop gradually. Other cataracts can develop more quickly, such as those in younger people or those in people with diabetes. Doctors cannot predict how quickly a person’s cataract will develop.

You may be able to slow down your development of cataracts.

Protecting your eyes from sunlight is the best way to do this. Wear sunglasses that screen out the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light rays. You may also wear regular eyeglasses that have a clear, anti-UV coating. Talk with your eye doctor to learn more.

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