Cataracts lead to clouding in the lens of the eye that can cause blurred vision. Other symptoms include struggling with glare from lights, trouble seeing in low light, and colours appearing faded. Untreated cataracts can cause blindness, but eye surgery can replace the affected lens with an artificial one.

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Cataract symptoms

The symptoms of cataracts may not be noticeable to begin with, and people are sometimes surprised when they're picked up by a routine eye exam. You may not notice any major vision loss or changes to your sight as the symptoms often develop slowly. Over time, however, cataracts can cause significant sight loss if they're not treated. Double vision is one of the most common first signs, but it depends on the type of cataracts you have:

  • Nuclear cataracts occur at the centre of the lens and progress slowly.
  • Cortical cataracts affect the edge of the lens and cause problems with glare around lights.
  • Posterior subcapsular cataracts increase your sensitivity to light and could cause problems with daily tasks such as reading or working.

If you do notice vision problems or any changes to your sight, see an optician, ophthalmologist, or GP as soon as you can. 

Cataracts in children

Babies are routinely screened for eye conditions as part of their health checks, but children can go on to develop cataracts later too.

They may not be able to describe changes in their vision, but there are some signs of vision impairment that your child may show. Speak to your GP, ophthalmologist, or optician if you notice these or have any concerns about their eye care. 

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Cataract treatment

Cataracts are typically treated with surgery. The cloudy lens is replaced with an artificial one, with a high rate of success (Source: NHS).

Surgery may not be necessary straight away. For example, new prescription eyeglasses may help in the early stages. You can decide on the timing of surgery with your eye doctor based on symptoms, lifestyle, and any other conditions you may have. 

Types of cataracts

There are three types of age-related cataracts, all affecting the lens of the eye. The lens is the front part of the eye. It lets light in, focusing it on the retina and sending signals to the brain that help us see. 

The different types of cataracts can lead to a range of symptoms that impact your eye health. 

Other cataract types

Most cataracts are age-related, but there are also:

  • Traumatic cataracts caused by serious eye injury.
  • Radiation cataracts caused by certain types of radiation, for example, for cancer treatment.
  • Congenital cataracts (also known as childhood cataracts). While rare, these can cause other vision problems, so prompt treatment is normally recommended.
  • Secondary cataracts sometimes develop after cataract surgery. This can be corrected by laser treatment.

Diagnosis of cataracts

Cataracts can affect your vision and will gradually worsen if left untreated.

You should speak to your GP or optician if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Cloudy or blurred vision 
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Colours look faded
  • Difficulty seeing in low light 
  • Double vision 

Your optician can look for cataracts during an eye examination, which will include a visual acuity test (assessing how well you see details at different distances). They may refer you to an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) if they think you have cataracts. 

When to get medical advice

Cataracts can start to develop without noticeable symptoms. This is one reason the NHS recommends having an eye test every two years, to help detect eye conditions early.

If you notice changes to your sight or are worried, see an optician or your GP as soon as you can. If they think you have cataracts, they’ll refer you to an ophthalmologist for tests and to discuss treatment. 

Living with cataracts

Being diagnosed with cataracts is quite common as we age. Even so, it may feel unsettling to learn you have an eye condition that can lead to sight loss. Fortunately, cataracts treatment has a good rate of success. There are also ways to manage symptoms of cataracts before having surgery.

Frequently asked questions

Medically reviewed by: The Royal College of Ophthalmologists on 18/10/2022

Edited by: Nick Astbury FRCS FRCOphth FRCP
Clinical Associate Professor

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists champions excellence in the practice of ophthalmology and is the only professional membership body for medically qualified ophthalmologists. The RCOphth is unable to offer direct advice to patients. If you’re concerned about the health of your eyes, you should seek medical advice from your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.

In this section...

Find information about the causes of cataracts, and the different types of treatments available. 

Get advice for managing cataracts, the impact they can have on your vision in the future, and the support others have accessed. 

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