7 Symptoms of Cataracts
Could You Have Cataracts?
The lens of your eye is used everyday, for everything from reading to driving to bird watching. With age, the proteins inside the lens can clump together, turning the lens from clear to cloudy. Certain behaviors like too much time in the sun without eye protection, smoking, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, use of steroid medications, hormone replacement therapy, or taking statins may put you at higher risk for a cataract.
But you aren’t alone. Over 20 million Americans over the age of 40 have cataracts in one or both eyes, and 6 million have had corrective surgery. If you have any of the following symptoms, talk to your eye doctor soon.
Cataracts start small and may have little effect on your vision. Things might seem a little blurry, a bit like looking at an impressionist painting. This effect will likely increase over time. The world will seem cloudy, blurry, or dim.
However, there are three types of cataract, affecting different parts of the lens. Posterior subcapsular cataract (more common in those taking steroids or with diabetes), nuclear cataract in the center of the lens, and cortical cataract on the side of the lens. Those with nuclear cataract may briefly see their vision actually improve for a little while. This sensation is sometimes called “second sight”.
No More Wild Nights
As cataracts become more advanced, they can begin to become darker, with a yellow or brown tinge.
This begins to affect night vision, making it harder to do activities at night, like driving. In fact, a study by Curtin University in Australia found that treating cataracts reduced the risk of car accidents by 13 percent.
If you suspect you have cataracts, be very careful at night and don’t drive when your vision is compromised.
The Glare of Bright Lights
Light sensitivity is a common symptom of cataract. The glare of bright lights can be painful for many people with cataracts, especially those with posterior subcapsular cataracts.
In fact, a British Journal of Ophthalmology study suggests that glare sensitivity is a strong early symptom of subcapsular cataracts, even more so than other vision changes. That sensitivity could be used to diagnose cataract before vision changes become more advanced.
The clouding of the lens can result in diffraction of light entering the eye. This can cause “halo” to appear around light sources. Rings around every light, sometimes in a variety of colors, can make driving very difficult. This is another reason why driving at night, when there are streetlights and headlights on everywhere, can be dangerous if you have cataracts.
Other eye conditions can also cause halos around lights, including swelling of the cornea, glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, strokes, or simply needing a new eyeglass prescription.
New Glasses Again
If you find yourself frequently needing stronger and stronger glasses or contacts, you may have cataracts. Simply buying a strong pair of reading glasses from the drugstore isn’t going to fix the problem. See an eye doctor if your eyesight is changing rapidly. You may have cataracts or another eye condition that prompt treatment can benefit.
Living in a Yellow Submarine
As cataracts progress, the clumps of protein clouding your lens may turn yellow or brownish. This results in all the light coming into your eye having a yellow tint. It is almost as though you are wearing “blue-blocker” sunglasses advertised on TV, which block blue and violet light. This changes how you see color, and reduces your ability to tell the difference between colors.
After corrective surgery for cataracts, you may be surprised to see the world with all its colors again!
Diffraction from the lens clouding in a cataract can actually lead you to see two (or more) images of a single object. Many things can cause double vision—also called diplopia—from a brain tumor, corneal swelling, multiple sclerosis, stroke, or cataracts.
Binocular double vision, which causes two images to be visible in either eye if the other eye is closed, can be a sign of serious health concerns, brain injury, uncontrolled diabetes or hypertension, Graves’ disease, or myasthenia gravis.
Monocular double vision, which causes multiple images to appear in one eye but not the other, is more likely to be a problem with the eye’s cornea or lens. Cataract is one of the most likely causes of multiple images in a single eye. As the cataract grows larger, this effect may go away.
See Your Doctor
Cataracts can cause significant changes in vision. Cataracts occur not just in older adults, but in younger people too. Injury, certain medications, and genetic conditions can result in cataracts, even in the very young.
It should be noted that not all vision changes are the result of cataract. Several of the above symptoms can be signs of very serious and life-threatening conditions. See an eye doctor to discuss your vision changes and any other symptoms you may be experiencing.
- Cataracts. (2013, July). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cataracts/DS00050/DSECTION=symptoms
- Cataracts FAQ. (2013). Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/wilmer/conditions/cataracts_faq.html
- Cataract surgery reduces car accidents and economic costs. (2010, December). Curtin News, Curtin University. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://news.curtin.edu.au/uncategorized/cataract-surgery-reduces-car-accidents-and-economic-costs/
- Common Eye Disorders. (2013, April). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/basic_information/eye_disorders.htm
- Facts About Cataract. (2009, September). National Eye Institute. Retrieved August 27, 2013, from http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts.asp#3a
- Lasa, M. et al. (1993). Glare Sensitivity in Early Cataracts. British Journal of Ophthalmology. 77, 489-491. Retrieved August 27, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC504582/
- Seeing Double? See a Doctor. (2010, September). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 27, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/news2010-mchi/5945.html