8 Common Cataract Symptoms

A cortical cataract. Science Photo Library

Many people wonder if changes in their vision are actually cataract symptoms. Cataract development is a gradual process of normal aging. A cataract is a clouding of the lens that sometimes causes decreased vision, glare, and halos around lights. Cataracts tend to grow slowly over time. Cataract symptoms are often unnoticeable until the cataract becomes significant. Because of this gradual change, some people not even know they have cataracts. Cataract symptoms are affected by the type of cataract you have. Be aware of the following cataract symptoms:

  • Blurry vision
  • Dimmed or cloudy vision
  • Increased need for light when reading
  • Frequent eyeglass prescription changes
  • Halos around lights
  • Glare, especially at night
  • Light sensitivity
  • Double vision out of one or both eyes

Almost everyone over the age of 40 has some degree of lens clouding, as cataracts are a normal development of aging. However, only significant cataracts (or those that cause significant visual symptoms) should be of any concern. If your cataract symptoms interfere with quality of life, cataract surgery may be required. An ophthalmologist can remove the clouded lens and replace it with an artificial lens.

Cataract Risk Factors 

The biggest risk factor for developing cataracts is aging. Clouding of the eye's lens is natural as the eye becomes older. Other risk factors for developing cataracts include:

  • Diabetes
  • Eye surgery
  • Family history of cataracts
  • Smoking
  • Certain medications
  • UV exposure
  • Eye trauma

Additionally, some cataracts are congenital, meaning they formed at birth or during early childhood.

How will I know if my cataracts worsen to the point of needing surgery?

If you are concerned about cataracts, establish yourself with your local optometrist. Find a doctor you feel comfortable with and see him or her on an annual basis. When a doctor sees you over a number of years, they can document the progression of a cataract and the status of your vision.

Another thing that is nice about establishing a relationship with your optometrist is that he or she gets to know you too! They get to know your lifestyle and occupation and can judge how the cataract is affecting your lifestyle. If you have a worsening cataract and your optometrist feels that you would be a candidate for cataract surgery, you will referred to an ophthalmologist who specializes in cataract surgery. 

Your optometrist or ophthalmologist can assess the cataract and its affect on your vision by conducting several tests. Your eyes will be examined under a slit lamp biomicroscope. With high magnification, your doctor can visibly see the cataract and also can see how light refracts through the cataract. By looking inside your eye with special lenses, your doctor can get somewhat of an idea how you are seeing out of the eye. Next your doctor may perform a BAT test (brightness acuity test.) This test simulates what affect bright lights can have on your vision when a cataract is present. Your doctor may also perform a PAM test (a potential acuity meter test.) This will measure what your potential vision can be if the cataract is removed. This will tell the surgeon if the cause for the decreased vision is due to the cataract or possibly another source.


American Optometric Association. "Clinical Practice Guideline: Care of the Adult Patient With Cataract." American Optometric Association, 1995.

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