What Do Cataracts Look Like?

You may have heard older relatives talking about their cataracts. Or your vision seems a little fuzzy, and you’re wondering if you may have cataracts yourself.

Here’s what you need to know about this common eye problem.

What Are Cataracts?

A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of your eye. Cataracts occur when proteins in the lens break down and bind together, causing your vision to become blurry. Most cataracts develop slowly, getting bigger over a period of years.

You can get cataracts in one or both eyes, although they don’t spread from one eye to the other. You usually can’t see a cataract until it becomes advanced. The cataract may appear milky white, brown, or opaque.

Most cataracts happen as a natural part of aging. If you’re an older adult, it’s likely you have or will have cataracts. According to the National Eye Institute, more than half of all Americans 80 or older have cataracts or have had cataract surgery.

Cataracts can also form after an eye injury or after surgery for another eye condition like glaucoma.

In the worst cases, cataracts can lead to blindness, so it’s important to have regular eye exams.

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Risk Factors for Cataracts

Although aging is the primary cause of cataracts, some factors increase the likelihood that you’ll get them. You’re more likely to get cataracts if you:

  • Have diabetes.
  • Smoke.
  • Have family members who had cataracts.
  • Had eye surgery or an eye injury.
  • Take steroids for health issues like rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Spend lots of time in the sun without sunglasses.

What Are the 3 Types of Cataracts?

Cataracts can occur in different layers of the lens. The three types of cataracts are:

  • A nuclear cataract is in the center (nucleus) of the lens. It darkens with age, moving from clear to yellow to brown. It’s the most common type of cataract.
  • A cortical cataract is in the layer of the lens surrounding the nucleus. This cataract often looks like a wedge or spoke in the lens.
  • A posterior capsular cataract is in the back outer layer of the lens. It usually develops more rapidly than other types of cataracts and may cause you to see halos.

Symptoms of Cataracts in Eyes

Cataracts develop slowly over time. Some doctors offer a self test for cataracts online — a series of questions about your symptoms. But you should always see an eye doctor in person to diagnose cataracts.

If you have cataracts, you may notice:

  • Cloudy, blurry vision.
  • Colors that look faded.
  • Trouble seeing at night, especially when driving.
  • Lights (lamps, sunlight, headlights) that seem too bright.
  • Halos around lights.
  • Double vision.

When To See an Eye Doctor for Cataracts

You should see your eye doctor regularly for routine checkups. And if you’re having trouble reading, driving, or watching television, you should schedule another appointment.

An eye doctor can diagnose cataracts with a dilated eye exam. If you’re over 60, you should have a dilated eye exam every two years. The doctor will give you eye drops to widen your pupil, then check your eyes for any problems, including cataracts.

Cataract Treatment

The only treatment for cataracts is surgery. During the procedure, an eye surgeon will remove the eye’s natural cloudy lens. They’ll replace it with an artificial lens to help you see better.

However, if your cataracts are just developing, you may not need surgery right away. Instead, your eye doctor may suggest:

  • A new prescription for your eyeglasses that can help you see better.
  • Using brighter lights at home or at work.
  • Wearing anti-glare, UV-protective sunglasses.
  • Using a magnifying glass for reading and other close-up activities.

If you do need cataract surgery, know that it is one of the most common and safest procedures performed. You can ask your eye doctor about the benefits and risks of cataract surgery.

National Eye Institute, Cataracts, Link

American Academy of Ophthalmology, What Are Cataracts? Link

American Optometric Association, Cataract, Link

National Library of Medicine, Cataract, Link

About UPMC Vision Institute

The UPMC Vision Institute is a national leader in the treatment of eye diseases and disorders. We seek to improve and restore your vision to help your quality of life, diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in both children and adults. Our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We also offer routine eye screenings and have full-scale optical shops. Find an eye expert close to you.