How Do I Know if I Have a Cataract?

You probably have heard the term cataract at one point or another. But what exactly is a cataract and how does it affect our eyes? More importantly, what are the symptoms and how can we prevent or slow down the progression of cataracts? Let’s discuss.

What is a Cataract?

Our eyes have a lens inside them. This lens is made up of mostly water and proteins arranged in a particular pattern so the lens is clear in color and allows light to pass through. When light enters the eye, it is focused through the lens and travels to the back of the eye (retina) where it is then interpreted into an image. Over time the protein structure can change or start to clump which causes clouding of the lens. If the lens becomes cloudy, then the image (our vision) will be out of focus or blurry. The clouding of the lens is what we call a cataract. There are numerous causes of cataracts including:

  • Aging (most common)
  • Excessive exposure to UV or sunlight
  • Trauma/injury or surgery to the eye
  • Long term use of medications, i.e. corticosteroids or Phenothiazines (anti-psychotics)
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Excessive intake of alcohol
  • Family history of cataracts
  • Exposure to radiation, i.e. cancer treatment or x-rays

What Are the Symptoms of a Cataract?

Typically cataracts are slow to progress, and do not progress equally in each eye, so symptoms may vary depending on severity. Here a few things to out for:

  • Cloudy, distorted, or double vision (usually in one eye)
  • Decrease in color perception or vibrancy of colors (things may take on a yellow hue or appear dull)
  • Difficulty in bright sunlight (glare) or driving at night (due to scattering of light caused by cataract)
  • Difficulty reading things close up (from central clouding of lens)
  • Needing frequent updates to your eyeglass prescription

If you or a loved one are noticing any of the above symptoms, the best way to determine if there is a cataract is to visit your eye care provider for a thorough eye exam with dilation.

How to Prevent or slow the progression of Cataracts

There are some actions you can take to avoid getting a cataract. These include:

  • Wear sunglasses
  • Use eye protection when warranted (i.e. sports, carpentry, etc.)
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and keep health in check
  • Smoke cessation
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Periodic eye examinations for monitoring

Now, let's learn more about the Treatment for Cataracts.


Nicole Swistak is an Optometrist with 12 years of experience in primary eye care. She has worked alongside our nation’s armed forces and volunteers with local free clinics.