Symptoms – What is a cataract?

The lens inside the eye works much like a camera lens, focusing light onto the retina for clear vision. It also adjusts the eye’s focus, letting us see things clearly both up close and far away.

The lens is mostly made of water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and lets light pass through it.

But as we age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. This is a cataract, and over time, it may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see.

Age-related cataracts can occur because of injury, historic eye surgery, conditions such as diabetes or the long-term use of steroids or steroid-based medications. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can also increase the likelihood that cataracts will develop.

Generally, cataracts develop slowly, and you may not even notice that you have them at first. Cataracts also usually appear in both eyes – although they might not develop at the same time, same rate, or even in both eyes at all.

When cataracts do become noticeable, you may at first be able to deal with them using stronger lighting and/or glasses. However, as cataracts develop, you’ll likely experience blurry or misty eyesight, added difficulty seeing at night, decreased colour clarity – sometimes with a yellow haze, sensitivity to bright lights, glare and seeing halos around lights. You may also find your glasses or contact lens prescriptions changing more frequently.

Cataracts may also affect your ability to drive. You don’t need to tell the DVLA unless you no longer meet the visual standards for driving(1) or have an increased sensitivity to glare because of the cataracts.

If you think you’ve got cataracts, it’s best to see your optician who will perform a thorough eye test and confirm whether the symptoms you’re experiencing are indeed cataracts. Surgery is the only reliable treatment for cataracts, but, don’t worry, it’s a simple procedure and only takes about 10 minutes.



  1. GOV UK: Driving eyesight rules

Other related questions

  • UV radiation – How does UV radiation cause cataracts?

  • Colour – Do cataracts affect colour vision?

  • Symptoms – Can you see cataracts?

  • Vertigo – Can cataracts cause vertigo?

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