Cataracts can develop over months or more commonly years and initially they may present no symptoms. They usually affect only a small part of the lens in the early stages, but will progress and extend over time. Cataracts may develop in one eye at first, but very typically go on to affect both eyes.
Cataracts aren't painful or itchy, nor do they cause the eyes to become red or inflamed. The eyes usually appear normal in the earlier stages of cataract development. In very advanced cataracts, the pupil may become grey or white (the white appearance was likened to a waterfall, from where cataracts get their name).
The most common cataract symptoms are:
- Vision becomes blurred or hazy, as though looking through a frosted piece of glass, affecting all or just patches of the visual field
- The blurred vision cannot be corrected by glasses or contact lenses
- It can become more difficult to see in dim / low light
- Bright light, for example from the sun or car headlights, may produce glare or a whiteout when shining from a particular direction. This is similar to reduced visibility from a low sun shining across a dirty windscreen
- Colours can appear less vibrant / faded, producing a washed-out appearance
- Vision may appear yellow
- Vision may become doubled
- Vision becomes short-sighted (myopia) causing a temporary improvement in near vision
The location of the cataract will determine the kinds of symptoms you will experience:
- A nuclear cataract often leads to an improvement in near vision because of an increase in short-sightedness. The patient may feel their eyesight is actually getting better, though as the cataract progresses vision will become worse.
- A cortical cataract may not produce any symptoms until it extends centrally and reaches the visual axis within the pupil. At this point vision will quickly deteriorate.
- A subcapsular cataract may produce little in the way of symptoms until it becomes quite advanced, although there may be early effects of glare from bright lights
When to see an optician about cataracts
If you have problems with your vision, make an appointment to see your optician (also known as an optometrist). They can examine your eyes and test your sight.
The optician may look at your eyes with a slit lamp or ophthalmoscope. These instruments magnify your eye and have a bright light at one end that allows the optician to look inside and check for cataracts.
If your optician thinks you have cataracts, they may refer you to an ophthalmologist or an ophthalmic surgeon, who can confirm the diagnosis and plan your treatment. These doctors specialise in eye conditions, such as cataracts, and their treatment.
What treatments are available for cataracts?
Please see our Cataract Surgery page for more information on the available treatments for cataracts.