Understanding cataract symptoms, causes and treatments

You may know at least one person who’s either living with a cataract or has had cataract surgery. In fact, cataract surgery is one of the more popular procedures done in the U.S.1 And while most cataracts are age-related, they can occur earlier than you might think.1

A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of the eye.2 Imagine looking through a foggy window — things may look hazy, less colorful and even a little blurry. Many cataracts are caused by normal changes in your eye as you age. Around age 40, the proteins in the lens may start to break down and clump together. This clump of protein is what creates the cloudy cataract. There are different types of cataracts that have their own set of circumstances and causes.

What are the 5 types of cataracts?

There are 5 main types of cataracts.3

  • Age-related: The most common type of cataract is age-related. It happens as a result of natural changes in the lens of the eye as you get older.
  • Traumatic: Traumatic cataracts can happen after a serious eye injury, like a hockey puck hitting the eye or an elbow to the face that reaches your eye. Blunt force trauma can cause a traumatic cataract either immediately or years later.
  • Radiation: We may all be aware how important sun protection is for our skin — but it may be news that the same protection is needed for our eyes. Certain types of radiation, such as UV rays from the sun or radiation from cancer treatment, can cause a cataract.
  • Pediatric: It’s rare, but kids can also get cataracts. They’re either born with them (congenital cataracts) or can develop them later on. And of course, children may also get traumatic cataracts from rough play. However, pediatric cataracts often occur because they’re genetic.
  • Secondary (posterior capsule opacification): During cataract surgery, the cloudy lens is replaced with a clear one. Over time, scar tissue can grow and make your vision blurry again (thus, the name secondary cataract). But don’t worry; a second cataract can often be fixed with a quick laser treatment.

What can I do to prevent cataracts?

While genetics may play a role, there are plenty of things we can do that may help prevent cataracts:1, 4

  • Don’t smoke (or consider quitting)
  • Protect your eyes from UV rays
  • Wear safety glasses when playing sports or doing home projects where your eyes are at risk (think anything involving a saw)
  • Eat a nutritious diet that includes leafy greens rich in carotenoids and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Rest your eyes from bright screens every 20 minutes

What are symptoms of cataracts?

You may not know you have a cataract until your vision starts to change. You might notice things like:1

  • Blurry or cloudy vision
  • Faded colors
  • Trouble reading or driving
  • Light sensitivity to things like lamps, sunlight and headlights
  • Halos around lights
  • Double vision

Be sure to call your doctor if you experience any of the above.

What are treatment options for cataracts?

If cataracts may be getting in the way of your daily activities, your doctor may recommend surgery — no matter the type of cataract.4 Cataract surgery is a common and safe procedure.5 If your cataracts are bothering you or making it hard to drive or watch TV, there are other options that might help maintain your quality of sight to delay the need for surgery. Things such as:1

  • Using brighter lights indoors
  • Wearing anti-glare sunglasses
  • Using a magnifying lens to read
  • Asking your doctor if a stronger eyewear prescription might help

How can I find out if I have cataracts?

Your eye doctor (optometrist or ophthalmologist) can perform regular dilated eye exams that test for cataracts. During your appointment, be sure to mention any symptoms you’ve noticed, and ask about your risk level (including genetics). It’s important to identify cataracts right away because they may lead to vision loss over time.1