Heather Oliff, PhD
Related Media: Cataract Surgery
A cataract is a clouding of the eye's lens. It leads to decreased vision. The lens of the eye focuses an image onto the retina at the back of the eye. This is where an image is processed, and then sent to the brain.
As the cataract matures, it often causes glare, and decreased vision, contrast, and color sensitivity.
The lens of the eye is made of mostly water and protein. The protein is arranged in a way that keeps the lens clear so light can pass through it. A cataract forms when some of the protein clumps together and starts to cloud an area of the lens. A cataract won't spread from one eye to the other, although most people develop cataracts in both eyes at similar times.
There are several causes of cataracts, including:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors for cataracts include:
When a cataract is in the early stages, you may not notice any changes in your vision. Cataracts tend to mature slowly. Vision gets worse gradually. Some people with a cataract find that their close-up vision suddenly improves. This is only temporary. Vision is likely to get worse as the cataract becomes cloudier. Because the decrease in vision is gradual, many people do not realize that they have a cataract until it is discovered during a routine eye examination.
These symptoms can also be signs of other eye problems. If you have any of these symptoms, check with your eye care professional immediately.
Although you might think you have a cataract, the only way to know for sure is to have an eye examination. To detect a cataract, an ophthalmologist or optometrist examines the lens and may do other tests to learn more about the structure and health of your eye.
A comprehensive eye examination for cataracts usually includes:
For an early cataract, vision may be improved by using different eyeglasses, magnifying lenses, or stronger lighting. If these measures don't help, or if vision loss interferes with daily activities such as driving, reading, or watching TV, surgery is the only effective treatment.
is almost never an emergency. Therefore, in most cases, waiting until you are ready to have cataract surgery will not harm your eye. However, your cataract will only get cloudier with time.
Cataract surgery is almost always performed in one eye at a time. After the cloudy lens is removed, the eye surgeon (ophthalmologist) places an intraocular lens (IOL) in its place. An IOL is a clear lens that requires no care and becomes a permanent part of your eye.
After cataract surgery, most people need reading glasses, and many people need glasses for distance vision. There is a relatively new option, multifocal intraocular lenses, which focus for both near and far distances in the same lens. Many patients who receive multifocal intraocular lenses see well at both a distance and nearby without glasses.
Although every surgery has risks, the majority of patients who have cataract surgery have better vision afterward.
If you are diagnosed with cataracts, follow your doctor's
Although there is no way to completely prevent cataracts, the following precautions may help:
It is also important to get a comprehensive eye examination regularly. Since vision problems increase with age, if you are aged 60 or older, you should have a comprehensive eye examination once a year.
American Academy of Ophthalmology
National Eye Institute, NIH
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Canadian Ophthalmological Society
Cataracts. National Eye Institute. National Institutes of Health website. Available at:
http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/cataract. Updated May 2009. Accessed July 13, 2009.
National Institutes of Health.
Ophthalmic Genetics Newsletter. 2000 Summer;1(2).
Last reviewed June 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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