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Cataracts themselves do not cause pain, but the photosensitivity that develops from cataracts can be painful. (Learn More) If a patient’s cataracts obscure too much vision, the constant squinting and focusing of the affected eye can be a source of headache related to eye strain. (Learn More)

Glare

Cataracts can sometimes cause patients to experience a glare when they look at bright lights. This is the result of the cataracts (clumps of inactive proteins) forming in a pattern that makes light scatter inside of the eye instead of being focused on the retina.

The scattering causes light signals to be transmitted all over the inside of the eye, causing glare (the inability to focus on the source of the light). This can sometimes be painful.

This sensitivity to light, or photophobia, is a very common symptom of cataracts. It is the most typical way that a patient with cataracts will experience pain.

One way that a cataract might become painful is if it becomes hypermature, which means that it has been allowed to grow until it becomes almost entirely opaque, completely blocking vision in the affected eye. If the cataract is allowed to develop to this point, there might be inflammation, headaches, and accompanying pain. While cataracts should be removed as soon as they are detected, a hypermature cataract would need to be surgically removed immediately.

Medical News Today suggests that if patients do feel pain while they have cataracts, the pain could likely be caused by another eye disorder. Cataracts, by and large, do not pose a risk to the health and vision of the patient unless the cataracts are allowed to grow to the point where they become hypermature.

Cataracts & Headacheswoman with cataract

One possible source of pain with a cataract might be headaches. In the early stages of cataract development, they are unlikely to cause any vision loss, which is why many people do not know that they have cataracts until vision loss is more noticeable.

The problem of pain arises from the cataracts becoming more severe, gradually occluding increasing amounts of the patient’s vision. Patients will instinctively squint, hold reading material closer to their face, or focus their vision to better overcome the deficit in how well they can see. Putting this much strain on the eyes is a common cause of headaches.

This will also affect patients who are prone to headaches for other reasons. Having to focus their vision or squint will exacerbate the frequency and severity of their headaches.

If the patient has surgery to remove the cataracts, this might help to reduce how often they experience headaches. However, there will likely be other factors that are causing the headaches, and those will have to be addressed separately.

Therefore, the cataracts will not be the direct source of pain, but they can be a factor in how a patient experiences pain.

References

Do Cataracts Cause Eye Pain? (February 2014). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

What You Need to Know About Cataracts. (December 2017). Medical News Today.

Headaches and Your Vision. (September 2020). Verywell Health.