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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

A cataract is when part of the eye called the lens, which is normally clear, becomes cloudy and affects your vision. It tends to affect older people – up to half of people in the US will have been affected by cataracts by the time they are 80. There are other rarer types of cataracts, such as congenital cataracts, that develop from birth, and this is checked at your baby's regular screenings with your doctor.

People with a cataract usually complain of blurred vision. As the condition progresses over the years, vision can worsen, colors look less vibrant, spots appear in their vision, halos appear around lights, lights seem too bright, and they have difficulty seeing in poor light or at night. Pain isn't usually a symptom.

Cataract symptoms usually develop slowly over a few years, so people may not notice at first, but it will be picked up at a routine eye test.

What causes cataracts?

There is no specific cause of cataracts, although the chance of them occurring increases as people get older, if they smoke or drink excessive alcohol, if they have diabetes, use steroids for a long time, or have a family history or a relative who has developed cataracts. Rarely do some people develop cataracts after an eye injury.

The treatment for cataracts is surgery, and it is curative. The surgery takes less than an hour (sometimes less than 20 minutes!). During the surgery, the lens that has become cloudy is removed and replaced with an artificial lens.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your optician or doctor if you have any changes in your vision or any of the other symptoms of cataracts. They will also check for glaucoma.

What will my doctor do?

The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and how long you’ve had them. They will also ask you about your medical history and any eye problems in your family. They will examine both of your eyes and may refer you to a specialist eye doctor.

Am I fit for work? Can I drive?

You may not be fit for work if you have vision changes, depending on the nature of your work and the severity of your visual impairment. It is best to discuss this with your doctor.

You must meet the minimum visual standards for driving, and your optician can advise whether you meet those required for driving.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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