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Cataracts: Signs, Symptoms & Effects

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Cataracts stem from a clouding inside your eye. Aging is often to blame, but injuries, genetics, and other factors can cause them too. Cataracts can make it tough to see clearly, and you might notice the change while driving.

Doctors can spot cataracts during your annual eye health exam. If they’re impeding your ability to see clearly and handle everyday activities (such as nighttime driving), surgery can solve the problem.

cataract eye vs normal eye

What Are Cataracts?

The National Eye Institute (NEI) defines cataracts as clouding in the lens of the eye. When your lens is clouded, your eye struggles to focus light on your retina. The result is hazy, blurry, or less vibrant vision. 

Common cataract symptoms include the following:

  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Halos or similar effects around lights
  • Poor night vision
  • Colors appearing faded
  • Frequent prescription changes for glasses and contacts
  • Dizziness

The earliest major problems many people encounter are difficulty reading and driving.

Untreated cataracts tend to progress until they impact a person’s quality of life. Eventually, seeing out of an affected eye may be difficult or impossible.

Key Facts About Cataracts

eye with and without cataracts

What Are the Different Types of Cataracts?

All cataracts involve clouding in the part of your eye that focuses light, but the reasons for that clouding can vary.

The NEI recognizes five main types of cataracts.

Age-Related Cataracts

Cataracts are a common eye condition among aging adults, with over 50 percent of people over 80 developing them. Cataracts are more common among older adults who smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, or use steroid medications.

Traumatic Cataracts

Every day, about 2,000 American workers sustain an eye injury that requires medical care. Some of these injuries can cause cataracts. An injured eye must heal, and during that process, rogue cells can clump together and cause lens clouding.

Radiation Cataracts

The sun’s rays do more than darken skin. Some types of sunlight can harm tissues deep inside the eye, sparking changes that can lead to cataracts. UV-based radiation treatments for some types of cancer can also cause cataracts.

Congenital Cataracts

Some babies are born with genetic defects that can lead to cataracts. This form of cataract is relatively rare, but the problem tends to run in families. Treatment early in life can help a baby to see better.

Secondary Cataracts

Also known as posterior capsule opacification, secondary cataracts arise due to scar tissue formation after cataract surgery. Up to 2 in 5 people who have cataract surgery will develop this complication. A quick surgical procedure fixes it.

How Do Cataracts Form?

The most common cause of cataracts is aging, as proteins in the eye break down as part of the natural aging process. These proteins can form clumps, which can get bigger over time and affect vision.

Other forms of cataracts appear as eye tissues heal from drug exposure, UV radiation, or surgery. And some cataracts arise due to congenital issues no one can predict or control.

Senior caucasian woman having her eyes examined at the optician.Her head is placed in phoropter apparatus while middle aged male doctor is examining her retina. The woman has mid length yellow brown hair and wearing light breen blouse.

How Do Doctors Check for Cataracts?

To diagnose cataracts, a doctor will dilate your eye, widening your pupil and making it easier to look for cataracts.

Cataracts are diagnosed with a visual exam, and if they’re found, your doctor can measure them and mark their size and location in your chart. You could be referred for treatment right away based on the size, or your doctor could ask you to come back for recheck appointments to measure its progress.

This diagnosis process is usually painless, although dilation can be uncomfortable, and it takes a few hours to wear off. You will usually need someone to drive you home, as your eye will be especially sensitive to light when artificially dilated.

How Are Cataracts Treated?

Once you and your doctor decide your cataracts affect your life enough to justify surgery, your doctor has several surgical options available.

Cataract surgery is very safe and effective, allowing most people to return to a similar quality of life as they had before cataracts began to affect their vision.


Phacoemulsification is the most common type of cataract surgery. It involves making a small incision and breaking the eye’s natural lens into pieces. These pieces are then sucked out of the eye, and an intraocular lens (IOL) is inserted in its place. This synthetic lens helps focus light onto your retina, much like your natural lens would.

Extracapsular Surgery

Extracapsular surgery involves a larger incision compared to phacoemulsification. The harder, central part of your lens is removed, and the remaining pieces are removed. Next, an IOL replaces your removed lens.

Cataract Surgery

Cataract eye surgery is a very common and medically necessary procedure to remove and replace the eye’s natural lens when the vision has been clouded by a cataract. We offer laser-assisted cataract surgery and lifestyle lenses as options for our patients.

Learn More About Cataract Surgery

Emerging Research on Cataracts

While experts agree that cataracts are a common part of the aging process, they’re not sure why these problems develop. In February 2022, the NEI offered a $1.6 million grant to a team with the University of Arizona College of Medicine studying the biological mechanisms behind cataracts.

Research like this could help future doctors treat emerging cataracts more effectively. The research might also help doctors develop tools to delay the onset of cataracts in their older patients. 

Researchers are also performing studies to examine surgical techniques. A traditional cataract removal procedure involves specialized equipment, including suction devices. Some researchers believe using lasers is more effective and results in better results for patients.

Cataract Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a cure for cataracts?

Cataracts cannot be cured, but surgery can remove an affected lens and insert a synthetic lens that allows a person’s clear vision to return. Cataract surgery is essentially a “cure” for the issue since the cataract is removed.

There is no way to get rid of a cataract after it has formed other than surgery. The cataract must be removed to repair vision in that eye.

Can eye drops dissolve cataracts?

While some unscrupulous companies claim otherwise, it is impossible to “dissolve” a cataract. No at-home treatment exists that can fix cataracts. The only solution currently available is to remove the affected lens and put a synthetic lens in its place.

Can cataracts go away on their own?

No, the only treatment for cataracts is surgery to remove the natural lens and put in a synthetic lens.

Can cataracts come back after surgery?

No. Since the natural lens is replaced with a synthetic lens, cataracts cannot return after surgery. A cataract cannot develop on an artificial lens.

Can cataracts cause headaches?

If they’re left untreated, cataracts can make it hard for you to see clearly. Some people develop eye strain if they try to drive at night or read in low-light conditions. But headaches aren’t common in people with small, early-stage cataracts.

Can cataracts be reversed?

Only surgery can fix cataracts. You can use sunglasses, eat nutritious food, and quit smoking to stop them from growing quickly, but cataracts can’t be reversed.

What are cataracts made of?

Cataracts are made of cells found naturally within the eye. When they clump together, they cause clouding and reduced vision.

What will happen if a cataract is left untreated?

Waiting for cataract surgery typically won’t hurt your eyes or make later surgery difficult. But the delay could keep you from everyday activities, like reading or driving.


  1. Cataracts. (January 2023). National Eye Institute.
  2. Cataract. (July 2022). StatPearls.
  3. Self-Reported Driving Difficulty in Patients with Bilateral Cataract. (December 2022). Journal of Optometry.
  4. Cataract in Adults. (December 2022). UpToDate.
  5. Common Eye Disorders and Diseases. (December 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  6. Types of Cataract. (January 2023). National Eye Institute.
  7. Eye Safety. (July 2013). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  8. Maintaining Transparency: Study to Focus on Causes of Cataracts. (February 2022). National Eye Institute.
  9. Clinical Outcomes of Femtosecond Laser-Assisted Cataract Surgery Versus Conventional Phacoemulsification: A Retrospective Study in a Tertiary Eye Care Center in South India. (December 2022). Indian Journal of Ophthalmology.

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