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Home > Health Library > Cataracts
Cataracts are a painless, cloudy area in the lens of the eye. They block the passage of light to the retina. Nerve cells in the retina detect light entering the eye and send nerve signals to the brain about what the eye sees. Because cataracts block this light, they can cause vision problems.
Cataracts are common in older adults. But changes caused by aging don't always lead to cataracts. People with a family history of cataracts may also develop them. Sometimes children are born with cataracts.
Aging and exposure to sunlight can cause cataracts. But eye changes caused by aging don't always lead to cataracts. Cataracts can also happen after an eye injury, as a result of eye disease, after you use certain medicines, or as a result of health problems such as diabetes.
Many times cataracts don't cause any vision problems. Symptoms can include cloudy, fuzzy, or foggy vision. You may have trouble driving at night because of glare from car headlights. The vision loss from a cataract often happens slowly. It may never become severe.
Your doctor can find out if you have cataracts by checking your eyes and by asking questions about your symptoms and past health. You may need tests to make sure you have a cataract or to rule out other conditions that may be causing vision problems.
Surgery is the only way to remove a cataract. The surgery works well and helps people see better. But surgery may not be needed or can be delayed for months or years. Many people with cataracts get along very well with the help of eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other vision aids.
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Things that increase your risk for cataracts include:
There is no proven way to prevent cataracts. But certain lifestyle habits may help slow cataract growth. These include:
Cataracts can affect your vision in several ways.
The vision loss from a cataract often happens slowly. It may never become severe. Many times cataracts don't cause any vision problems.
As a cataract progresses, more of the lens becomes cloudy. When the entire lens is white, it causes severe vision problems. Delaying surgery until this point isn't recommended.
Cataracts may stay small and you may not notice them. They often don't seriously affect vision. Many cataracts don't need to be removed.
Some cataracts grow larger or denser over time, causing severe vision changes.
If treatment is available, it's rare for cataracts to cause blindness. Surgery is usually done before this happens.
Cataracts in children are rare but serious. If a cataract prevents light from entering a child's eye, the area of the brain used for sight does not develop the right way. Unless it's treated right away, the child won't see well with that eye.
Call your doctor now if you have:
Call your doctor to discuss your symptoms if you:
If you are an older adult, discuss with your doctor how often you need to have routine eye exams.
Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. Watchful waiting is safe and a good choice in most cases of adult cataracts. If you notice signs that your baby or child may not be seeing well, see your doctor. Cataracts in children should be treated right away.
Speak with an ophthalmologist about surgery to remove cataracts. In most cases, you can decide if you want or need surgery based on whether vision problems caused by the cataract are interfering with your daily activities.
Your doctor can find out if you have cataracts by checking your eyes. Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and past health. You may need tests to make sure you have a cataract. Tests can also rule out other conditions that may be causing vision problems.
During routine eye exams, your eye doctor will look for early signs of vision problems, including cataracts.
Surgery is the only way to remove a cataract. The surgery works well and helps people see better. But surgery may not be needed. Or it can be delayed for months or years. Many people with cataracts get along very well with the help of eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other vision aids.
Whether you need surgery depends on how much of a problem the cataract causes for daily activities like driving and reading. Surgery is almost always by your choice (elective). It can be scheduled when it's convenient.
Some people must have surgery. This includes children who are born with cataracts that need to be removed. It also includes people who get cataracts after an eye injury or as a result of eye disease or other health problems.
Only an ophthalmologist can treat cataracts.
If you have cataracts, you can manage your vision problems at home and avoid or delay surgery. For example, you can:
Surgery for cataracts involves removing the clouded lens of the eye (the cataract). The lens is most often replaced with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens implant (IOL).
If you don't have another eye condition, your chances of seeing better after cataract surgery are very good. But you may still need reading glasses or glasses for night driving.
Most adults who have surgery for cataracts do it to:
For most adults, surgery is only needed when vision loss caused by a cataract affects their quality of life.
There are several types of cataract surgery.
Current as of:
April 29, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Kathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: April 29, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
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