A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of your eye. Cataracts are very common as you get older. In fact, more than half of all Americans age 80 or older either have cataracts or have had surgery to get rid of cataracts.
At first, you may not notice that you have a cataract. But over time, cataracts can make your vision blurry, hazy, or less colorful. You may have trouble reading or doing other everyday activities.
The good news is that surgery can get rid of cataracts. Cataract surgery is safe and corrects vision problems caused by cataracts.
Types of Cataract
Most cataracts are age-related — they happen because of normal changes in your eyes as you get older. When you’re young, the lens in your eye is clear. Around age 40, the proteins in the lens of your eye start to break down and clump together. This clump makes a cloudy area on your lens — or a cataract. Over time, the cataract gets more severe and clouds more of the lens.
Other Types of Cataract
You can get cataracts for other reasons — for example, radiation exposure, ultraviolet light exposure, exposure to certain medications, inflammation in the eye, eye injury or after surgery for another eye problem (like glaucoma).
No matter what type of cataract you have, the treatment is always surgery.
Secondary Cataract (Posterior Capsule Opacification)
After cataract surgery, some people may develop a condition called secondary cataract, or posterior capsule opacification. Secondary cataracts aren’t actually cataracts, but they make your vision cloudy. Secondary cataracts can appear weeks, months, or even years after cataract surgery — but they are easy to fix with a quick, painless laser treatment in the doctor’s office.
Symptoms of Cataract
You might not have any symptoms at first, when cataracts are mild. But as cataracts grow, they can cause changes in your vision. For example, you may notice that:
- Your vision is cloudy or blurry
- Colors look faded
- You can’t see well at night
- Lamps, sunlight, or headlights seem too bright
- You see a halo around lights
- You see double (this sometimes goes away as the cataract gets bigger)
- Your glasses prescription changes frequently
- These symptoms can be a sign of other eye problems, too. Be sure to talk to your eye doctor if you have any of these problems.
- Over time, cataracts can lead to vision loss
Risk Factors for Cataract
Your risk for cataracts goes up as you get older. You’re also at higher risk if you:
- Have certain health problems, like diabetes
- Drink too much alcohol
- Have a family history of cataracts
- Have had an eye injury, eye surgery, or radiation treatment on your upper body
- Have spent a lot of time in the sun
- Take steroids (medicines used to treat a variety of health problems, like arthritis and rashes)
You can take steps to protect your eyes and delay cataracts.
- Wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block the sun.
- Quit smoking. If you’re ready to quit, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free support.
- Eat healthy. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables — especially dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale.
- Get a dilated eye exam. If you’re age 60 or older, get a dilated eye exam at least once every 2 years.
How will my eye doctor check for cataracts?
Your eye doctor can check for cataracts as part of a dilated eye exam. The exam is simple and painless — your doctor will give you some eye drops to dilate (widen) your pupil and then check your eyes for cataracts and other eye problems.
Surgery is the only way to get rid of a cataract, but you may not need to get surgery right away.
There is no home treatment for cataracts, but early on, you may be able to make small changes to improve how you function. You can do things like:
- Use brighter lights at home or work
- Wear anti-glare sunglasses
- Use magnifying lenses for reading and other activities
- New glasses or contacts. A new prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses can help you see better with cataracts early on
Your doctor might suggest surgery if your cataracts start getting in the way of everyday activities like reading, driving, or watching TV.
During cataract surgery, the doctor removes the clouded lens and replaces it with a new, artificial lens (also called an intraocular lens, or IOL).
This surgery is very safe, and 9 out of 10 people who get it can see better afterwards. Talk about your options with your doctor. Most people don’t need to rush into surgery.
Waiting to have surgery usually won’t harm your eyes or make surgery more difficult later.
Remember these tips:
Tell your doctor if cataracts are getting in the way of your everyday activities
See your doctor for regular check-ups
Ask your doctor about the benefits and risks of cataract surgery