Skip to main content.

Get the Clear Facts on Cataracts

Posted July 20, 2023 by James Grow, Jr., M.D.

Man wearing glasses and boy pointing

Unfortunately for many, cataracts are a common part of aging. The National Eye Institute estimates more than half of Americans age 80 or older either have cataracts or have had surgery to remove them.

A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of your eye. Most commonly, cataracts are caused by normal changes in the eye as you age. After about age 40, proteins in your eyes start to break down and clump together, which creates the cloudy area, or cataract, on your lens. Most cases occur after age 60.

The symptoms don’t become noticeable as cataracts begin forming. But over time, you may notice blurry, hazy or colorless vision—almost like looking through a foggy or dusty windshield. You may have trouble reading or doing other everyday activities. Left untreated, cataracts can lead to vision loss. Fortunately, cataract surgery is very safe and effective at correcting this vision problem.

Get the facts on cataracts so you can quickly spot symptoms and discuss treatment with your doctor. In some cases, you can even take steps to slow down the development of cataracts.

Risk factors for cataracts

Aging is the most common risk factor for cataracts. However, you’re also at a greater risk if you:

  • Smoke
  • Have diabetes
  • Consume too much alcohol
  • Have a family history of cataracts
  • Spent significant time in the sun without sunglasses
  • Suffered an eye injury or had eye surgery
  • Take steroids

Symptoms of cataracts

Mild cataracts typically don’t present any symptoms. But as they grow, cataracts can cause changes in your vision. Symptoms can include:

  • Cloudy or blurry vision
  • Colors that look faded or yellow
  • Trouble seeing well at night
  • Extra sensitivity to light, such as oncoming headlights or lamps
  • Seeing a halo around lights
  • Double vision
  • Frequent changes in eye glass or contacts prescription(s)

Diagnosing and treating cataracts

If you are over the age of 60, the National Eye Institute recommends a dilated eye exam once every one to two years. Cataracts are diagnosed with a comprehensive eye exam. Dilating eye drops widen your pupils so the doctor can check your eyes for cataracts and other eye problems.

If you have cataracts, surgery is the only option to remove them. However, if your cataracts aren’t interfering with daily activities, it may not be time to remove them. You might just need to adjust your eyeglass prescription to improve your vision.

Your provider will suggest surgery once cataracts start to interfere with daily activities, such as reading, driving and watching TV.

When you undergo cataract surgery, your doctor will remove the clouded lens and replace it with a new, artificial lens, called an intraocular lens. The outpatient surgery is safe and effective. In fact, the National Eye Institute claims nine out of 10 people see better after having cataracts removed.

Preventing cataracts

While you can’t prevent cataracts, you can take steps to slow down the development of cataracts by:

  • Proper eye protection. Wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat protects your eyes from harmful UV rays. Also, wearing goggles when using tools or playing sports protects your eyes from injury.
  • A healthy diet. Eating a healthy diet ensures you’re getting the proper vitamins and minerals to keep your eyes healthy and functioning properly.
  • Quitting smoking. Not only bad for your heart and lungs, the harmful chemicals consumed while smoking are also bad for your eyes. Help lines, such as 1.800.Quit.Now, are available to help you quit.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption. Excessive drinking increases your risk for cataracts. Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women.

Cataracts are very common, but fortunately can be treated easily. If you’re struggling to see clearly, talk to your ophthalmologist to discuss your symptoms. Together, you can decide on whether you’re ready for surgery.