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When they mature fully, cataracts will be visible in the mirror and to other people. (Learn More) They appear white.
Prior to cataracts becoming noticeable themselves, there are other signs that a cataract is forming, including vision changes and trouble seeing well at night. (Learn More)
It generally takes many years for cataracts to progress to the point of being visible. They form slowly over time. (Learn More)
When cataracts mature to the point that they are interfering with your daily life, such as making it hard to see well enough to read and drive, it is time to have the lens surgically replaced via cataract surgery. (Learn More) Cataract surgery can restore vision loss due to the formation of a cataract. (Learn More)
When You Can See Cataracts in a Mirror
Cataracts cause the lens of the eye to become cloudy and hard to see through. When a cataract is advanced, it can make the lens of the eye appear white.
This is what you can see in a mirror, and it can be seen by other people as well. It can look like your pupil has a milky white covering over it.
It takes a long time for cataracts to progress to this point, however. It is much more likely that you will experience vision issues related to a cataract way before you can see them.
Signs of Cataracts
With age, cataracts are very common, and they can occur in one eye at a time or both eyes simultaneously. The progression of a cataract is slow, so vision issues can crop up a little at a time.
Symptoms of a cataract as defined by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) include:
- Blurry vision.
- Double vision.
- Glares or halos around lights.
- Problems seeing clearly at night or in dimly lit environments.
- Needing to change your prescription eyewear frequently.
- Colors appearing faded or not looking as bright.
- Sensitivity to light.
At first, you can manage vision changes and issues caused by cataract formation by wearing anti-glare sunglasses, using brighter lighting, and changing your prescription eyewear. Cataracts will continue to progress and worsen, however.
A cataract forms as the proteins in the lens of your eye start to break down. This is a side effect of the natural aging process, which typically begins happening around the age of 40.
It can take years, or even decades, for cataracts to start impacting your vision. It is often not until you are in your 60s or older that you start to notice problems. More than half of adults over the age of 80 in the United States have either experienced a cataract or have had cataract surgery.
The broken-down proteins begin to clump together. The lens of the eye then gets cloudy and harder to see through, as light is blocked and refracted differently than through a clear lens. It can then seem like you are looking through a frosted or foggy windowpane.
Left untreated, cataracts can cause vision loss and blindness. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that cataracts are the number one cause of vision loss in the United States and the number one cause of blindness globally.
When It Is Time for Surgery?
When a cataract progresses to the point that it makes daily life difficult and it is hard for you to read and safely drive, the only treatment is cataract surgery.
When cataracts are significantly impairing your ability to go about your everyday life and see well enough to do so, it is time to get them fixed. This is generally before the cataract has reached the point of becoming visible, but your eye doctor can do tests and determine the presence of a cataract.
Surgery for cataracts is extremely common, and it is considered safe and effective. Most people who undergo cataract surgery see an enhancement in their vision.
Improvement Through Cataract Surgery
After surgery, vision loss, sensitivity to light, and poor night vision that were the result of the cloudy lens are improved. If you also suffer from additional eye issues or vision problems that are not related to cataracts, such as macular degeneration or glaucoma, these issues are not resolved through cataract surgery.
If you can see a cataract in the mirror, it’s likely you are ready to have cataract surgery. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
It’s best to see your eye doctor on a regular schedule so they can catch the early development of cataracts and monitor their progression.
What Are Cataracts? (October 2020). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Cataract. (July 2020). U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Cataracts. (August 2019). National Eye Institute (NEI).
Cataracts FAQ. (2020). Johns Hopkins University.
Common Eye Disorders and Diseases. (June 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Cataract Surgery. (September 2020). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).