What is a cataract?
A cataract is clouding of the lens in the eye. The lens is the part of the eye that focuses light (figure 1). Cataracts can cause vision loss.
What are the symptoms of cataracts?
Cataracts make a person’s vision blurry or dull (picture 1). They can also make everything look slightly brown in color. Some people notice a problem when they keep needing new eyeglass prescriptions. For some, headlights and other lights might seem to have a glare.
Is there a test for cataracts?
Yes. Your doctor or nurse might be able to see your cataracts just by looking in your eye. But if it looks like you have cataracts, your doctor or nurse will probably send you to an eye doctor. Eye doctors can usually diagnose cataracts in minutes.
If you have vision loss, it could be caused by more than 1 thing. An eye doctor can check you for the most common causes of vision loss by doing a “comprehensive eye exam.” During the exam, the doctor will:
- Check how well you see things up close and far away
- Check how well you see things that are at the center of focus, and how well you see things that are off to the sides
- Measure the pressure inside of your eye using a special device
- Look into the back of your eyes to check for signs of nerve damage
How are cataracts treated?
The main treatment for cataracts with major vision loss is surgery. This involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with a new artificial one. Not everyone needs treatment. If you have cataracts, you decide if and when to have surgery.
Cataract surgery is pretty simple, although rarely, it can lead to problems such as infection or pain. But the surgery can greatly improve vision in people with severe cataracts.
How do I decide about surgery?
If you are thinking about surgery, ask your doctor:
- What are the risks of surgery for me? (If you have any other health problems, ask how they might affect the results of the surgery.)
- How much is my vision likely to improve if I have the surgery?
- Is it possible that the surgery will not work?
- Are my cataracts the only thing causing my vision problems? (If you have other eye conditions, surgery might not help with those.)
- What will recovery be like?
If you need cataract surgery in both eyes, it will often be done as 2 separate procedures on different days. In some cases, both procedures can be done on the same day.
After you get all of this information from your doctor, ask yourself:
- How much do my vision problems limit me?
- Can I do all of the things I need to do with the vision I have left?
- Have I stopped doing things I love, such as reading or knitting, because I can’t see well anymore?
- How do I feel about the possible risks of surgery?
- How will I feel if the surgery causes problems or does not work?
- Will there be someone who can help me while I recover?
Think about these things. Then, work with your doctor to decide whether surgery is right for you.
Can cataracts be prevented?
You can reduce your chances of getting cataracts by not smoking or quitting if you do smoke.