Could you have cataracts? Learn the symptoms.


In this article:

  • Cataracts form primarily as a result of aging.

  • While cataracts may not show symptoms at first, you could eventually experience cloudy vision, faded colors and difficulty seeing well at night.

  • The good news is, once a doctor removes a cataract, it won’t return.

Could you have cataracts?

If you are lucky enough not to have needed glasses or contacts to correct your vision, you might still have an eye issue in your future: Most health care providers consider cataracts to be an inevitable part of aging. There’s a good chance that you will need cataract surgery at some point in your life. “Everyone will eventually get cataracts if they live long enough,” says Meng Lu, M.D., an ophthalmologist at Pacific Medical Centers Specialty Care – First Hill in Seattle, Washington.

What are cataracts?

A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of your eye that can make it difficult for you to see. While it’s not painful, it can cause your vision to be blurry, hazy or less colorful, and it can affect your ability to perform everyday activities.

While this article is focused on age-related cataracts, there are other types of cataracts, too. Those include traumatic cataracts, which form when something injures your eye, and pediatric cataracts, which can affect babies and children.

The lens of your eye includes several different layers:

  • Nucleus – in the center of the lens.
  • Cortex – the layer that surrounds the nucleus.
  • Lens capsule – the thin membrane that surrounds the cortex and protects the lens.

The most common types of cataracts form as the proteins in your nucleus or cortex break down, resulting in a cloudy patch that affects your vision. Sometimes, more than one cataract can form in different parts of your eye.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

If you have cataracts, you may not experience symptoms right away. When you do, according to the American Eye Institute, you may notice that:

  • Your vision is cloudy or blurry even with glasses.
  • Colors look faded.
  • You can’t see well at night.
  • Lamps, sunlight, or headlights seem too bright.
  • You see a halo around lights.
  • You have to change the prescription for your glasses or contact lenses often.

Diagnosing cataracts

The best way for a doctor to diagnose cataracts is by performing a dilated eye examination. If you are age 60 or older, you should have a dilated eye exam once every year. During the exam, your doctor gives you eye drops to widen your pupil and then checks your eyes. After a dilated eye exam, you may experience some blurry vision and sensitivity to sunlight for a few hours.

Your doctor will also perform a comprehensive eye exam, examining your eyes for signs of cataracts and asking you about your vision and medical history.

Treating cataracts

The only way to treat cataracts is through surgery, but if your cataracts aren’t bothering you that much, you can try the following:

  • Using magnifying glasses and readers to help you read and see small things.
  • Using brighter lights.
  • Wearing anti-glare sunglasses.

Eventually, you will probably need cataract surgery, during which the doctor removes the clouded lens and replaces it with a new, artificial lens. Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most commonly performed surgeries in the United States, and most people experience no complications afterward.

Myths about cataracts

We asked Dr. Lu about some of the most common myths she hears about cataracts, and the facts behind those myths.

Myth 1: Cataracts can come back after you have them removed.

Dr. Lu: Cataract surgery is a one-time deal. Once we get the cataract out, you’re done.

Myth 2: Refractive lens exchange (RLE) surgery and cataract surgery are different procedures.

Dr. Lu: RLE is the same procedure as cataract surgery. Both replace your eye’s natural lens with a man made lens to improve your vision. Instead of being for people who are generally older than 60 with cataracts, RLE is usually performed in younger patients who have not yet developed cataracts, so the procedure is out of pocket and not covered by insurance.

Myth 3: If I undergo laser eye surgery, I will not have to worry about cataracts.

Dr. Lu: Laser eye surgery like LASIK or PRK changes the curvature of your cornea on the outside of your eyes, which can improve your vision and decrease dependency on glasses or contacts. Cataracts, on the other hand, affect the lens on the inside of your eye. Laser eye surgery and cataract surgery impact completely different parts of the eye, so while you might see well after laser surgery, you will eventually develop cataracts and need cataract surgery.

Myth 4: I will be able to get rid of my glasses completely after cataract surgery.

Dr. Lu: While cataract surgery certainly does improve your vision, there’s no way we can give you the eyes you had when you were 20 years old. Instead, the surgery decreases your dependency on glasses, so that you might be able to do some things in your life without needing them.

Providence has a wide array of ophthalmologists who can work with you to find the best solution for your vision problems. You don’t have to live with cloudy or altered vision — cataract surgery can help you live your best life!

Contributing caregiver


Meng Lu, M.D., is an ophthalmologist at Pacific Medical Centers Specialty Care – First Hill in Seattle, Washington.

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Related resources

Are your eyes parched?

Eyes and aging

Prevent glaucoma through regular eye exams

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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