You are unlikely to notice symptoms of a cataract until it has developed significantly, but your optometrist or ophthalmologist will be able to see a cataract during a routine eye exam. Cataracts occur when proteins in the lens of your eye become damaged and begin to clump, stream, or blur your eyesight.
If you develop symptoms of a cataract, even if they are mild, it is important to report these changes to your eye doctor so they can examine you for cataracts and begin a treatment program. This may include surgery, if your vision is impacted enough.
What Is a Cataract?
Cataracts are an age-related eye problem. They are very treatable, but the leading cause of blindness in the world. As you get older, proteins in the lens of your eye begin to break down and clump together, forming streaks, dark patches, white spots, or overall cloudiness.
Few people notice that they have a cataract unless their optometrist tells them or the changes begin to impact their vision. It can take many years for a cataract to reach a point that it causes significant visual impairment, although you may experience gradual changes in your vision that require adjustments.
More than half of American adults, 80 years old and older, either have had cataract surgery or have a cataract.
Many early signs of cataracts can be easily dismissed or adjusted to. It is important to understand the symptoms of cataracts so you can report them to your optometrist or ophthalmologist during a regular visit. Your eye doctor can check for cataracts and, if you have one, recommend options including surgery.
Cataract Signs & Symptoms
Since cataracts develop differently in everyone, there are several recorded symptoms associated with the condition as it progresses. Many of these can be managed for years until you need surgery.
Here are the most common symptoms:
- Blurry vision: As the cataract forms in your lens, it will change how well light reaches your retina, especially if the cataract is predominantly cloudy. You may think this symptom is a sudden progression of a refractive error like astigmatism, so you may try to compensate with better glasses.
Your eye doctor will likely recommend a higher prescription of glasses as the cataract develops. You should report a sudden change in refraction or sudden blurriness in your vision so your doctor can look for cataracts.
- Blind spots: Some cataracts develop in small clumps that will not impact your vision at all, except causing you to not see small areas. You may not notice this until you have to read a Snellen Eye Chart or take another type of vision test, like that required for a driver’s license.
- Trouble seeing in the dark: Since cataracts prevent light from entering your eye very well or at normal angles, it can become difficult to see in the dark. Additionally, normally lit rooms might seem dimmer.
Your optometrist will recommend adding more lights to your home and office. If you need to go out at night, they may recommend using a flashlight to see your path more clearly.
- Difficulty with night driving: Since you are likely to develop trouble seeing in the dark, you may begin to experience difficulty driving at night. If possible, avoid driving at night or at sunrise and sunset. You may also consider getting another person to drive you, if necessary.
- Color fading or yellow-shifting: Some types of cataracts darken vision or prevent certain wavelengths of light from hitting your retina, which can change how you perceive colors. If you feel that the world around you is losing its color, whites or other lighter colors seem to take on a yellow tinge, or you have a harder time distinguishing between certain colors, this may be the result of a cataract.
- Double vision: You may also see a ghosted image in the eye with the cataract rather than a full double image. This change in vision can be difficult to manage, as it creates optical illusions and distractions. Glasses might help for a while, but you may find you need to rely more on the eye without the cataract until you can get surgery to remove the damaged lens.
Can You See the Cataract in Your Eye?
Sometimes, a cataract can develop to a significant enough size that you can see it in your eye. However, most people do not know they have cataracts until their optometrist diagnoses them during a thorough eye exam.
This is why it is so important to go to routine eye exams, especially as an older adult. Even if you have good visual acuity and do not need glasses or contacts, you may slowly develop other chronic eye problems like cataracts or glaucoma, which can change your vision and, if left untreated, cause blindness.
Steps After Cataract Diagnosis
Once you have received a cataract diagnosis, you should follow the advice of your optometrist or ophthalmologist. The National Eye Institute (NEI) recommends:
- Use brighter lights at home or work.
- Wear anti-glare sunglasses to slow the development of cataracts and potentially improve your vision.
- Use magnifying lenses for reading or other up-close activities.
- Get new glasses or contact lenses to improve light refraction into your eye.
- Work with your ophthalmologist on when you will need surgery.
Your eye doctor will wait on surgery as long as possible, but if the cataract causes significant changes to your life, including preventing you from driving, you may be a good candidate to have the cataract removed.
Last Updated February 26, 2022
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