A cataract looks like cloudiness on the lens of the eye. Depending on the severity of the cataract, it can appear white.
Cataracts are one of the most common eye diseases in the world, affecting around 20 million people in the United States alone. They’re a clouding of the lens that sits behind your iris, and they can cause vision loss or even blindness if not treated.
We’ve outlined everything you need to know about cataracts and their symptoms.
What Do Cataracts Look Like?
Cataracts are cloudy areas on the lens of your eye that make it difficult to see clearly. They usually start in one or both eyes as a small spot and gradually grow larger over time.
For someone with cataracts, the world looks like scenes through a frosted or fogged-up window.
The cloudiness caused by cataracts can vary in color from yellowish-brown to grayish-white. It may be clear with tinges of color depending on where it’s located within the lens.
If you notice any changes in your vision or experience problems with glare or brightness, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor to test for cataracts.
Can I See My Cataracts?
Cataracts are hard to detect, even when you’re looking in a mirror.
Looking at your own eyes in the mirror is an unreliable method of diagnosing cataracts because you cannot see them during most conditions. Sometimes, however, you may be able to see a cataract forming in another person’s eye if you look at it from the right angle.
A comprehensive eye exam by your doctor can reveal whether you have a cataract as well as its type and severity.
Symptoms of Cataracts
When cataracts are first forming, they may not cause any symptoms at all. But as they get larger over time, symptoms may include the following:
- Blurry vision or difficulty seeing details
- Colors appearing faded
- Inability to see in bright light
- Double vision or multiple images when looking at an object
- Glare from lights like headlights when driving at night
If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your eye doctor immediately so they can diagnose and treat your cataracts before they cause any permanent damage. The good news is that treatment is available to restore your vision following cataract surgery, including intraocular lens implants (IOLs).
Cataract Appearance FAQs
What does it look like when someone has cataracts?
It depends on which part of your eye is affected by the cataract. Most often, it looks like there’s a piece of film over your eye that makes everything look blurry and hazy.
When do cataracts develop?
A cataract develops slowly over time and can occur at any age. However, the chances of developing a cataract increase with age. For example, people ages 65 and older have a 50 percent chance of developing a cataract over their lifetime.
My cataracts are yellow. Is that bad?
No, not necessarily. Many cataracts start out as yellow and then turn completely white over time. However, if you’re concerned about your cataract color, ask your eye doctor to check it at your next appointment.
Cataract Tables. (February 2020). National Eye Institute.
Comprehensive eye exams. American Optometric Association.
IOL Implants: Lens Replacement After Cataracts. (April 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Cataract Surgery: Risks, Recovery, Costs. (July 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Last Updated January 10, 2023
Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.