Cataracts typically develop in people who are 60 years old and older, but they often occur in people who are younger. The treatment recommendations and outlook for people with early cataracts may depend on underlying health issues that cause them to appear.
A cataract is the result of proteins in your eye that can collect on the lens of your eye. This clouds the lens and prevents light from getting through it, resulting in disruptions to your vision.
These changes typically begin to occur after you turn 40 years old as a natural part of the aging process. By the age of 80 years old,
Though cataracts are most common in people who are 60 years old or older, cataracts can and often do appear before that for many people. Early cataracts may be linked to a health condition, such as diabetes, or caused by injuries or medication.
- being hit by an object like a ball (blunt trauma)
- being poked or cut by a sharp object (perforating trauma)
- exposure to UV radiation through things like outdoor sports and activities without sunglasses
- exposure to ionizing radiation for the treatment of eye tumors
- getting chemicals in that eye
- electrical injuries to any part of their body
Symptoms of early cataracts are similar to any other cataracts.
Cataract symptoms may include:
- colors appearing faded or yellowed in your vision
- difficulty driving, especially at night, due to increased glare sensitivity
- double vision in one eye
- needing increased light when you’re reading or focusing intently
- blurred vision in one eye only
A cataract will sometimes appear in one or both of your eyes before you’re 60 years of age. There are several reasons that this can happen, but here are a few of the more common ones.
Congenital hypothyroidism, hypoparathyroidism, and diabetes are chronic endocrine conditions that can lead to early cataracts. If these conditions go undiagnosed for a long time, or if your symptoms aren’t managed for an extended period, cataracts become more likely.
Injury to your eye is the
- chemical exposure
- radiation to treat cancer
- other forms of radiation
- ultraviolet (UV) exposure
- electric shock
- blunt trauma
- eye perforation injuries
Medications and lifestyle factors
Medications that may
- Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids, like prednisone or cortisone, reduce swelling and inflammation and are used to treat things like hives, asthma, lupus, and other conditions.
- Anticholinesterase drugs: These medications are only
used to treata few conditions, including digestive tract obstructions, myasthenia gravis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Lifestyle factors that have been linked to early cataract development include:
Early cataracts are diagnosed the same way that any cataract would be. But an optometrist or other eye care professional might be less likely to suspect cataracts if you’re younger than 60 years old.
If you have cataract symptoms, a family history of early cataracts, or anything in your health history that puts you at a higher risk, let a doctor know during an eye exam. If your eye care professional suspects that you have early cataracts, you will need to see an eye specialist called an ophthalmologist.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of cataracts, your eye doctor will likely:
- take a detailed family history and ask you questions about your overall health
- use dilation drops to widen your pupils, making it easier to look at the different parts of your eye
- conduct a full retinal exam using a slit-lamp microscope, allowing them to check for cataracts
- test the clarity of your vision with a visual acuity test and a refraction test
If an eye doctor detects cataracts, but they aren’t yet interfering with your vision, the doctor may recommend some lifestyle adjustments as a form of treatment, such as:
While these tools won’t heal your cataracts, they can help you if cataracts are beginning to develop.
Cataracts do worsen over time. It’s not usually possible to predict how quickly yours could get worse and will require additional treatment. If there’s an untreated medical condition or medication contributing to your cataracts, dealing with those underlying issues may help slow this progression down.
Eventually, recommended treatment for all cataracts is surgery. This is an outpatient procedure to replace the clouded lens in your eye with an artificial one. The
Eye drops to dissolve or slow the progression of cataracts are currently under review and can be prescribed. But this treatment isn’t yet Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved, and
Risk factors for early cataracts include:
- a family history of cataracts
- ongoing or frequent use of corticosteroid medication
- other existing medical conditions prone to form early cataracts
- working outside without UV protection for your eyes
- radiation treatment for cancer or other health conditions
- substance use disorders
A doctor can’t predict how quickly your cataracts might progress to interfere with your vision and require surgery. But there are several factors that can help slow the progression of cataracts, even ones that appear early.
- controlling any underlying health condition, such as diabetes, with a treatment plan
- limiting sun exposure and glare by wearing UV-blocking glasses
- avoiding smoking
- using bright lights and lamps when reading and doing other focused work that requires your eyes
Can younger people get cataracts?
Yes, people who are 60 years old and younger can and do get cataracts. Cataracts are caused by proteins that cloud the lens of your eye. Over time, these proteins can clump together and make it harder to see clearly. This can happen no matter how old you are.
What causes cataracts in younger people?
Underlying endocrine conditions, injuries to your eye, and certain medications can increase your risk of early cataracts. People who develop cataracts earlier in life may also be prone to them due to eye conditions and genetic factors.
If you have symptoms of blurry vision, double vision, or faded vision and you’re under the age of 60 years old, you may have early cataracts. An eye care professional can diagnose this condition and help you develop a plan for treatment.
Developing cataracts early in life could mean you have another health condition. You may need to consult a healthcare professional to be sure you don’t have other health concerns.
Cataracts eventually require surgery to correct. Cataract surgery is very safe and is generally very successful.