Cataracts

Resize text

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. Most cataracts are related to aging. Cataracts are very common in older people. By age 80, more than half of all Americans have either a cataract or have had cataract surgery.

A cataract can occur in either or both eyes. It cannot spread from one eye to the other.

Types of Cataracts

Although most cataracts are related to aging, there are other types of cataract:

  • Secondary cataract. Cataracts can form after surgery for other eye problems, such as glaucoma. Cataracts also can develop in people who have other health problems, such as diabetes. Cataracts are sometimes linked to steroid use.
  • Traumatic cataract. Cataracts can develop after an eye injury, sometimes years later.
  • Congenital cataract. Some babies are born with cataracts or develop them in childhood, often in both eyes. These cataracts may be so small that they do not affect vision. If they do, the lenses may need to be removed.
  • Radiation cataract. Cataracts can develop after exposure to some types of radiation.

Cataract detection

Cataract is detected through a comprehensive eye exam that includes:

  • Visual acuity test. This eye chart test measures how well you see at various distances.
  • Dilated eye exam. Drops are placed in your eyes to widen, or dilate, the pupils. Your eye care professional uses a special magnifying lens to examine your retina and optic nerve for signs of damage and other eye problems. After the exam, your close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.
  • Tonometry. An instrument measures the pressure inside the eye. Numbing drops may be applied to your eye for this test. Your eye care professional also may do other tests to learn more about the structure and health of your eye.

Cataract Treatment

The symptoms of early cataract may be improved with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. If these measures do not help, surgery is the only effective treatment. Surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens.

View the animated video below that looks at the causes of cataract, a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision.


Video credit: National Eye Institute, NIH