What are cataracts?

A cataract occurs when the normally clear lens of the eye becomes cloudy, making it difficult to read, drive, and in severe cases, function independently.

The lens sits near the front of the eyeball, just behind the iris and cornea. When healthy, it focuses light on the retina, allowing you to see clearly. When a cataract clouds the lens, it can seem as if you are viewing the world through a foggy window.

Most cataracts are age-related. These cataracts form over the course of several years, growing larger and denser over time due to the unwanted clumping of proteins within the lens of one or both eyes. Age-related cataracts are very common - more than half of Americans have had a cataract or cataract surgery by the age of 80.1

Other types of cataracts include:

  • Congenital cataracts - cataracts that are due to genetic conditions, often present at birth or appear in childhood
  • Radiation cataracts - cataracts that develop due to radiation exposure
  • Secondary cataracts - cataracts that form after surgery or due to health problems, such as diabetes, glaucoma or steroid intake.
  • Traumatic cataracts - cataracts which develop after an eye injury or surgery

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

During the early stages, a cataract may only affect a small part of the lens and therefore may not present any symptoms. As the cataract grows larger and more opaque, you may notice:

  • Increased blurriness or cloudiness
  • Dimmed vision
  • Double vision
  • Sensitivity to glare and light
  • Diluted or yellowed colors
  • Halos around lights
  • A brownish shade covering your vision
  • Difficulty driving, especially at night

What are the risk factors for cataracts?

Risk factors for developing cataracts include:

  • Aging
  • Family history of cataracts
  • Eye injury or surgery
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Extreme sunlight exposure
  • Radiation exposure, including medical radiation
  • Steroid intake

How are cataracts treated?

Cataracts can be treated with eyewear, but most will eventually require cataract surgery.

Learn more about cataract surgery at Temple.

To schedule an appointment with a Temple ophthalmologist, click here or call 1-800-TEMPLE-MED (1-800-836-7536).

1National Eye Institute