Symptoms of Cataracts

Unless you know the signs, you may not even notice at first that you have a cataract. These can often develop so slowly that you don’t realize that you need more light to read, you’re suddenly concerned about driving at night, or you notice your vision has become foggy.

The fact is, many different signs can indicate that the lens of your eye is no longer clear and you may have developed a cataract. Here’s what to look for to help determine if a cataract may be plaguing your vision.

A person looks at a landscape that is blurred (Frequent Symptoms of Cataracts)

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Frequent Symptoms

Cataracts occur when lens proteins begin to stick together in spots, blocking light from reaching the retina at the back of the eye.

Typically, while age-related cataracts may begin to develop when someone is in their 40s or 50s, it’s not until someone is around age 60 that they begin to notice the first signs that something is amiss.

In the United States, the majority of cataracts affect older Americans. Signs that someone has an age-related cataract may be almost imperceptible and then, over time, become more troublesome.

Blurry or Cloudy Vision

With some cataracts, it may appear as if your vision is no longer clear and is actually somewhat fuzzy, like peering through a filmy car window you’re planning on getting washed. This is caused by the normally clear lens becoming opaque as the proteins begin to break down and stick together in spots.

This cloudiness may be in just one small area and is something you can’t fix by simply rubbing or blinking. With time, this area may grow larger and it may become more difficult for you to function. When it does begin to significantly interfere, it may be time to consider cataract removal.

The idea that you could have a cataract should be on your radar if you have some of the following signs.

Faded Colors

If you notice that colors no longer look the same to you as they once did, cataracts may be the culprit. The world may seem less vibrant or duller as these develop. Since the lens itself can become yellowed, you may notice that things take on a yellowish tinge.

Difficulty Seeing in Dim Light

One troubling symptom of a cataract may be difficulty seeing under certain conditions. The cloudy lens may be letting less light through to the retina.

You may find you have difficulty driving your car at dusk or night, particularly on roadways that are not well lit. Or, reading without the aid of extra light becomes hard.

While this may not be much of a bother at first, take note if you’re struggling to read highway signs in the dark or find you need to up your bulb wattage to function.

Noticing Halos Around Lights

Suddenly, when you’re out at night, the light may appear to have its own aura or halo around it. You’re not seeing things. This may happen as the cataract diffuses the light entering the eye.

Sensitivity to Light

You may find you’re bothered by glare, with the sun, headlights, or other light sources suddenly appearing too bright. If you realize that you’re squinting or shielding your eyes in certain situations, a cataract may be the reason.

Your Prescription Needs Constant Adjusting

While it’s not unusual to have to get your prescription changed periodically, if this appears to be happening frequently, a cataract may be the culprit.

Your Lens Becomes Discolored

At first, a cataract is invisible to the naked eye. But if it develops long enough, that may change. The lens may become discolored, something which others may notice.

If a cataract is fully mature, it may appear as a whitish or bluish area at the middle of the eye. By this point, however, vision will usually have already become severely limited.

Symptoms of Three Types of Cataracts

Not all cataracts are necessarily the same. These can differ by location. Depending upon which type you have, symptoms may vary somewhat. Here are three different types.

Nuclear Sclerotic Cataract

These age-related cataracts are located at the lens’s center, with the color gradually changing from clear and becoming somewhat yellow or possibly even brown.

With this type of cataract, signs include:

  • For some, becoming a little more nearsighted, with temporary improvement in your ability to see up close
  • More difficulty seeing at a distance
  • Trouble with night driving
  • Experiencing double vision in one eye

Cortical Cataract

This common type of age-related cataract looks like wedges or even spokes in wheels. When light hits one of these wedges, it tends to scatter. Cortical cataracts usually start at the outside of the lens, sparing central vision at first but infringing here with time.

Symptoms here may include:

  • A slight decrease in visual acuity
  • Difficulties with glare or seeing at night
  • Double vision in one eye

Posterior Capsular Cataract

This type of cataract tends to develop quickly and can be found at the back outer part of the lens. These can occur due to age or may be related to eye inflammation, steroid use, trauma, radiation, or even a chronic condition such as diabetes.

With a posterior capsular cataract, you may find yourself contending with:

  • Issues with glare or halos around lights
  • Trouble seeing in bright light, but not in dim conditions

Complications/Subgroup Indications

Apart from dealing with visual symptoms, cataracts themselves don’t usually cause complications. But when these begin to interfere with daily life, your heatlhcare provider may suggest that you undergo cataract surgery.

If you do choose cataract removal, there can be complications to keep in mind. Fortunately, while most cataract surgery goes off without a hitch, in about 1 in every 50 cases, a serious complication may develop.

Complications to watch for include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Some reduced vision
  • Retinal detachment
  • Infection or bleeding
  • Persistent pain
  • Visual occurrences such as halos, glare, or shadows
  • Shifting or dislocation of the implanted lens

In most cases, no further surgery will be needed to resolve these issues. Medications alone usually suffice. While vision may be temporarily reduced, the risk of permanently losing sight from cataract surgery is very slight. This may occur in only about 1 in 1000 cases.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Cataract development is very gradual, and it may be a long while before you reach the point where you’d like to have a cataract removed. If you find that visual complaints are beginning to interfere with your quality of life, it may be time to consider this.

If you have undergone cataract surgery, while most of the time this goes smoothly, reach out to your healthcare provider or another health professional in cases where:

  • You experience worsening pain despite the use of medication.
  • The eye becomes gooey or sticky.
  • You notice flashes of light or see squiggly strands in your field of view.
  • There is a reduction or loss in your vision.

Most people, however, find that cataract surgery, which is usually done on an outpatient basis, is a very safe procedure. By following your healthcare provider’s instructions, you can expect to recover with little discomfort and, in 9 out of 10 cases, to see much better following the procedure.

A Word From Verywell

It’s extremely common, especially for those in older age groups, to develop cataracts. The good news is that in most cases, cataract removal takes just a short time and goes smoothly without much difficulty. This can allow you to once again enjoy clear vision similar to what you had before you first noticed signs of cataract development.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine Wilmer Eye Institute. Cataracts FAQ.

  2. National Eye Institute. Cataract data and statistics.

  3. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What are cataracts?

  4. National Eye Institute. Cataracts.

  5. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What do cataracts look like?

  6. American Optometric Association. Cataract.

  7. Columbia University Department of Ophthalmology. Nuclear sclerotic.

  8. Columbia University Department of Ophthalmology. Cortical.

  9. Columbia University. Posterior subcapsular.

  10. National Health Service. Cataract surgery.

  11. Cleveland Clinic. Cataract surgery.

  12. Harvard Medical School. Considering cataract surgery? What you should know.

By Maxine Lipner
Maxine Lipner is a long-time health and medical writer with over 30 years of experience covering ophthalmology, oncology, and general health and wellness.