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What are the First Signs of Cataracts?

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An older male patient sitting in an exam chair looks up and smiles at his female optometrist.

Cataracts are a prevalent eye condition, especially in older adults. The positive side is that they are easy to diagnose and treat. In fact, cataracts that are only causing minor vision issues can often be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. Some cases require minor outpatient surgery to remove.

Regular eye examinations, as recommended by your eye doctor, are one of the most surefire ways of detecting cataracts early—sometimes even before any symptoms present themselves. Let’s look at what exactly cataracts are and some early signs you can be aware of.

What are Cataracts?

Typically, the lenses in your eyes are clear. But when you develop a cataract, the lens grows cloudy. At first, this likely won’t affect your vision much. Although, as it worsens, your vision grows more cloudy or blurry. And colors may also begin to not look as vibrant.

Typically, you will develop cataracts in both eyes. However, it doesn’t always happen at the same pace. This is where you may notice a difference in vision between each of your eyes. 

Different Cataracts

Various types of cataracts include:

  • Nuclear: These cataracts affect the center of the eye’s lens. Typically, a nuclear cataract will cause an increase in nearsightedness. Over time, as the lens clouds to yellow or brown, you may have trouble distinguishing between shades of color.
  • Cortical: A cortical cataract begins at the edge of the eye’s lens. Unlike a nuclear cataract, these ones are typically white and wedge-shaped.
  • Posterior Subcapsular: These cataracts start at the back of the lens—directly in the light’s path. A posterior subcapsular cataract typically messes with reading vision and causes reduced vision in bright lights. In addition, you’ll likely notice halos or glares around lights during the night. Another common characteristic of this type of cataract is its quick development.
  • Congenital: As we mentioned, cataracts aren’t always age-related. A congenital cataract is one that an individual is born with or develops early in their childhood. These could be genetic or due to trauma or infection.
One half of the image shows a clear mountain view with a blue sky and green trees, while the other half shows the same landscape but clouded and blurred due to cataracts.

What are the First Signs of Cataracts?

One of the reasons that it’s sometimes difficult to notice the initial signs of cataracts without an eye examination is because they often start off by affecting a small area of the eye and don’t cause drastic vision changes.

Here are some common signs of cataracts to be aware of:

  • Cloudy, blurry, or dim vision
  • Decreasing night vision quality
  • Light sensitivity
  • Needing more light for various activities
  • Frequently changing prescription
  • Double vision in one eye
  • Less vibrant or yellowing colors

Risk of Cataracts

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), over half of Americans over the age of 80 either have cataracts or have received cataract surgery to get rid of them. So, that tells us that the age-related risk is high for cataracts.

However, age isn’t the only thing that puts us at risk of developing cataracts. Getting an eye injury or receiving surgery for an unrelated condition like glaucoma also carries a risk of developing cataracts.

Here are several other things that may increase your risk of cataracts:

  • Diabetes
  • Excessive sunlight exposure without suitable protection
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Eye trauma or unrelated surgery
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Treating Cataracts

During their initial stages, a cataract often doesn’t require any drastic interventions. Many times, increasing light brightness while reading or doing other activities helps. Also, contact lenses or glasses can correct some vision issues caused by cataracts.

Ultimately, the only way to fix a cataract is through surgery. Fortunately, surgery doesn’t have to be an answer until they affect your ability to perform your normal daily activities. If you’re considering the surgery, have that conversation with your eye doctor. They can ensure that you’re fully informed on everything involved with the surgery, including the risks, complications, and benefits.

Overview of Cataract Surgery

Cataract surgery is straightforward. Essentially the doctor places numbing drops in the eye or uses an injectable anesthetic to ensure you don’t feel discomfort. Then they make a small incision and remove the cloudy lens.

Once the old lens is removed, they replace it with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens (IOL). These IOLs can actually be manufactured with some corrective prescriptions and other benefits, so ask your optometrist about your options.

After the procedure, the incision is often left to heal by itself without sutures. Because of how small it is, they are usually unnecessary. Recovery is typically uneventful and takes around 8 weeks. Your eye doctor will give you specific aftercare instructions for your particular situation.

Booking an Exam

Many of the symptoms of cataracts can also be warning signs for other conditions like glaucoma or simply a worsening refractive error. If you’ve developed any of the symptoms above, give our office a call today. Our helpful staff is happy to answer your questions and book you in for an eye examination.

Written by Taylor Bladh

After 30 years there is little I have not seen. Learning something new is part of the adventure. Experience can only be earned. One drop at a time. I love fixing things other doctors can not. Let me tell you some of the things that I hold in a special place in my career.
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