June 7, 2013

By Diane Walker, RN, MS

Cataracts are a common part of aging. This cloudiness, caused by a thickening of the lens, happens so gradually that many people don’t even realize their vision is changing. June is National Cataract Month, making it a great time to learn about what cataracts are and their warning signs so you know what to watch for.

What are cataracts?

Cataracts look like a cloudy mass on the lens of the eye. As we age, some of the protein on the lenses of our eyes may clump together and obscure a small area of the lens. Over time, the cataract may grow large enough to obscure the vision.

There are several types of cataracts: secondary, traumatic, congenital, and those caused by radiation. Secondary cataracts form after surgery for other eye problems such as glaucoma, or appear in people that have other health problems, such as diabetes. Traumatic cataracts appear after an injury to the eye. Congenital cataracts form before a baby is born, or in young childhood. And radiation cataracts develop from exposure to radiation.

What causes cataracts?

Cataracts are very common in older adults. By age 80, nearly all Americans either have a cataract, or have had cataract surgery (in which the cloudy lens is replaced with an artificial one.) Certain diseases and lifestyle choices can increase the risk of cataracts. Diabetes, smoking, alcohol use, and environmental factors such as prolonged exposure to sunlight can all increase the likelihood of cataracts.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

How do you know if you or someone you love is developing cataracts? Here are the symptoms:

  •     Blurry or fuzzy vision
  •     Trouble seeing at night
  •     A “halo” or glowing effect around lights
  •     Double vision (single objects appear as two)
  •     Changes to how you see colors (colors are less vivid and may appear brownish)
  •     Headlights, lamps, or sunlight may appear too bright and glaring
  •     Frequent prescription changes for glasses or contacts

For more information about cataracts, visit:

The Mayo Clinic’s cataracts page

The National Eye Institute’s cataracts page

See also our previous post on Caring for Seniors with Cataracts.

A proactive approach to cataracts includes regular visits to an opthamologist each year to ensure your eyes are in good health and any changes can be followed over time.   Have you or has someone you love experienced cataracts? What were the first signs you noticed?