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How Cataracts Affect Your Eyes

Dan has had cataract surgery on both eyes and has written extensively about the experience from the patient's point of view.

This is an illustration of a normal eye. Cataracts will cloud the lens, preventing focus.

This is an illustration of a normal eye. Cataracts will cloud the lens, preventing focus.

Your Eyes and Cataracts

A great deal of the world around you comes to you through your eyes, and cataracts can and will adversely affect what and how you see. But what are cataracts? How and why are they created? What can be done about them?

All good questions—and of supreme importance to anyone losing their eyesight as a result of cataracts. There is little worse than gradually losing the ability to see clearly, watching as the world slowly disappears, but there are solutions. You can regain that sight.

This article is intended to give an overview of what cataracts are and how they can affect your life. If, after understanding what cataracts are, you feel that you may have them, be sure to get an eye exam and have a doctor check your eyes for cataracts.

This is an example of a severe case of cataracts.

This is an example of a severe case of cataracts.

What Are Cataracts?

In a normal eye, one of the primary functions is to focus the light entering the eye on the retina in the back of the eye. This is done via a lens, similar to a magnifying glass, in the front of the eye. As light passes through the crystal clear lens it is bent and focused onto the small section of receptors at the back.

When cataracts develop, that lens becomes clouded. It still works, to a degree, but the light entering is no longer focused properly. It is scattered by the clouded lens, it is reduced in strength, and it is discolored. Taking all of these effects together, the eye no longer produces a clear, sharp picture of what is being looked at.

This child suffers from CRS and has severe cataracts in both eyes

This child suffers from CRS and has severe cataracts in both eyes

That cloudiness is most often the result of age. The lens itself has changed; it is not a coating of some kind on the lens but the material of the lens itself that is at fault. Cataracts cannot be removed without removing the entire lens.

Everyone that lives long enough will develop cataracts, although the age at which they occur varies tremendously between individuals and can range from the very young until well into the 80s. In any case, it is only a matter of time before cataracts develop; few people escape them entirely.

In addition, some diseases can promote the growth of cataracts. Congenital Rubella Syndrome (caused by rubella during the early months of pregnancy) is but one example that can cause cataracts in very young children.

The photos above show severe cases of cataracts, and both people will be very nearly blind as a result. There is seldom a reason for allowing the disease to progress that far, however, and correction is simple and easy.

Normal Vision

Normal Vision

As seen with cataracts not too far developed.

As seen with cataracts not too far developed.

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The Results of Cataracts

The effects of having cataracts are many and varied, and not everyone will have all the symptoms. Nevertheless, some are very common and provide an early warning that cataracts may be developing.

  • Dimming and blurring of vision. Often written off as presbyopia, or the loss of ability to focus as a result of normal aging, blurring can be a sign of cataracts.
  • Halos or glare from around lights. Lights, artificial or not, appear with a halo around them or with abnormal amounts of glare. Driving at night can become difficult as a result.
  • Double vision. Cataracts can produce double vision as the focusing ability is lost.
  • Faded colors. The vibrancy of color slowly disappears as cataracts develop, and the world looks faded out.
  • Feeling of a "film" over the eyes. Those suffering from cataracts frequently complain that there is a film over their eyes.
  • Frequent cleaning of glasses. Those already wearing glasses tend to clean them frequently, trying to get rid of the fog produced by cataracts.
  • The world turns yellow. Although seldom noticed until the cataracts are removed, the world often takes on a dingy, yellowish tint.
  • If only one eye is affected, there is a loss of depth perception. The brain may "shut down" that one eye, leaving only one eye to see with. It takes two eyes to produce depth perception, so much of that ability can be lost.

Diagnosing Cataracts

Part of the problem with self-diagnosing cataracts is that many of these symptoms are shared with other problems. In addition, they often come on so slowly that they are hardly noticed for some time. The yellowish tint, for instance, is seldom reported at all until after the problem is repaired and white is actually white again. If you feel that you may have cataracts, a visit to an ophthalmologist is necessary for a complete diagnosis.

The two photos above may give an idea of what cataracts do; colors have faded out, the focus has decreased, and details have been lost. The most obvious change when one begins to get cataracts is probably a loss of focus; reading becomes difficult, whether a book or a computer screen. Details of everything are lost, sometimes to the point that a person standing 50 feet away can't be identified.

Getting Rid of Cataracts

Once you have positively identified cataracts, the next step is to get rid of them—and that means surgery. Although the very thought of someone cutting into your eye is frightening, to say the least, cataract surgery is the most common surgery in the world and has a very high success rate.

Cataract Surgery

Performed on an outpatient basis, the actual surgery normally takes only about 15 minutes, and recovery is short. You should be home within a couple of hours and able to perform most daily tasks within a day or two.

Cataract surgery consists of removing the old lens and implanting a new artificial lens. You will be asked to choose a lens, either a standard lens or one of the newer "premium" lenses, and the choice is not easy. Premium lenses (an IOL) will cost considerably more, are generally not covered by insurance, and there are other considerations as well.

For a more comprehensive discussion of choosing an IOL or having cataract surgery, please read the articles linked, as they go into much more detail than can be done here.

Act Quickly

Whatever you do, though, don't simply do nothing. Your vision is a very important part of your life and must not be allowed to deteriorate. If cost is a prohibiting factor, don't let it continue to be one; there are options if you have no insurance or can't cover the deductible if you do.

If the thought of the surgery itself is putting you off making a decision, don't let it - the surgery is quick, painless, and nothing to be concerned about. If your eyes are failing because of cataracts, do something about it!


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can the cataract make the eye feel uncomfortable?

Answer: Mine did. It wasn't that it hurt, just that there was something wrong there. Perhaps it was just a mental acknowledgment rather than anything physical, but an uncomfortable feeling nevertheless.

© 2012 Dan Harmon


Richard Calkins on August 26, 2018:

4 week’s since surgery, only one eye required a new lens. Clearly sight has improved. However, sometimes I feel like I’m in a ‘zone’. Like the brain has yet to fully fuse what the individual eyes see.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on March 07, 2013:

Thanks, Glenn. I hope your sister and friend have the success I have had. I am just SO pleased with the results of my own surgery. A recent follow up visit showed that my vision is now 20/15; better than normal and better than my doctor WITH his glasses on. I'm now due to have a laser treatment to "tweak" them just a bit for better close up vision, and am looking forward to that as well.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on March 07, 2013:

This is a very well-written and detailed hub with lots of useful information. I'm not there yet but my sister, who is seven years older, will be having cataract surgery soon. And I have a friend who is having it done next month. I'm going to send both of them a link to your hub. I am sure they will find the information extremely helpful. Your responses to the comments are also informative and should not be missed by any reader.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 07, 2013:

That's the same thing I've experienced, but with the edge of the lens. Slowly disappear to the point I only see it in very good light and if I'm looking around and moving the eye rapidly. The old brain is good for something after all!

Wishing you the best for the second one - I've been super pleased with mine as I no longer need glasses for computer work.

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on February 07, 2013:

Yes, they are all but gone now, tend to be more obvious in good light or sunlight, which we have not had a lot of lately in the England. The brain is a wonderful thing as you well know. It was very scary experience at the time. One more cataract to go so I will hope for a better experience next time!

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 07, 2013:

Sorry to hear that, Sally. My doctor was very insistent that I notify him immediately if anything, including floaters, went wrong. The only thing I've had is that the new lens is smaller than the original one and I sometimes catch a glimpse of the edge of it. Over time the brain learns to ignore that curved flash of light and it doesn't bother me at all anymore.

You've probably told your doctor about this, but if not you need to do so. There are options to help the problem, but it is my understanding as well that they often gradually go away by themselves and that could be why your doctor is leaving them alone for now.

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on February 07, 2013:

I developed floaters after cataract surgery but thankfully the floaters are not as bad as they were in the beginning.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 23, 2013:

Thanks, Ralph. Here's hoping your wife does as well as I have.

I would suggest that you keep an open mind to having it done yourself. Without insurance, I could have done mine at any time, but fear kept me out of the OR. After the first one was done I couldn't wait to have the other eye as well, and did it well before the point insurance would have kicked in. I'm not sorry I did, either - insurance requires a severe loss of vision and there was just no reason to put up with that.

Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on January 23, 2013:

Informative, well-written Hub. My wife just had successful cataract surgery. I'm looking forward to it one of these days, but I was told I don't need it yet. I don't perceive any problems yet at age 77.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 27, 2012:

Well, that is the most common thing. My doctor tells me everyone will get cataracts - if they live long enough. It is mostly a "disease" of age, but not always.

Nell Hoxsie on October 27, 2012:

I guess it always seemed like it was the grannies who were complaining about their cataracts. I do get my eyes checked every year, so who knows, it might be time in the spring!

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 27, 2012:

You're one of the lucky ones then, Nell. It will take several years to fully develop cataracts in most people, but not 20 years.

But it's not really a "granny disease", though - my wife had the surgery at 40 something, and my mother was only in her 30's. Sure wish Mom could have waited; surgery then wasn't what it is today, and in the long run it's going to cost her her eyesight. Now days it is a very simple thing, but back then it was still very new and surgeons didn't know what they were doing and didn't have the equipment they do today.

Nell Hoxsie on October 26, 2012:

Add me to the cataracts list. I felt soooo old when my doctor said I was developing cataracts and demanded immediate surgery to get rid of my "granny disease." He laughed and said probably in 20 years. (I guess I'm in the early stages.)

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 03, 2012:

Don, you need to keep surgery in the back of your mind. My second eye is gradually getting worse, but it is happening so slowly that, just as you say, it is more aggravation than anything. Just like the first eye, I had not realized just how far my vision had deteriorated until I got a new lens put in.

My doctor says the same thing; the second eye isn't so bad it needs work yet, but I think I'll have it done this year anyway. It's going to need it one day - why wait until it seriously affects vision before having it corrected?

Don Bobbitt from Ruskin Florida on October 03, 2012:

Informative article on Cataracts. I have developed them myself in the past couple of years after I ended up with Diabetes.

They area an aggravation but the Docs say that mine are not bad enough yet to do anything about them.

Voted UP and shared.

Doctore Evile from the Northeast of the U.S.A on October 02, 2012:

This hub really makes me think. I had lasik, but most people do tend to take their eyes for granted. I'll certainly take this into consideration. Great hub!

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on September 25, 2012:

I haven't heard that bout delaying the surgery can make it more difficult. I have only had one eye done to date, and my own surgeon keeps saying I don't need the other one yet - it isn't seriously affecting vision, so wait a while longer.

And yes, I think you would be hard pressed to find a surgeon that would do both at once. If you DID find such a surgeon, I would find someone else because while it may be simpler for the surgeon to get it done all at the same time it isn't for you. You need to get the results from one eye before doing the other as there could be something just a little odd inside the eye, the lens chosen might not be a perfect fit and the second eye could receive a slightly different prescription. Recovery would be a little more difficult as well if both eyes are done together - the irritation that surgery inevitable produces will double if nothing else.

I haven't found the lopsided aspect to be valid at all - it took a very short time to learn to use the new eye more than the old one that still has a cataract. A matter of hours or a couple of days. It just wasn't a problem. When I left the surgery with just one eye done I could already see better even though that eye was still dilated (and would stay that way for several days) with all that means.

Kate Swanson from Sydney on September 25, 2012:

I second the "don't delay" advice. My husband delayed his surgery and the surgeon was not impressed. He explained that if they're left too long, cataracts can become hard and brittle, which means they're inclined to shatter when you try to remove them - which makes the operation much more difficult.

However, it's important to remember that cataract removal is an operation, and there's always a risk of complications. So I would always recommend having one eye done first, and waiting until you're happy with the outcome, before having the second eye done. Even if it means being a bit lop-sided for a while!

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on August 21, 2012:

@mperrotter - unless there are very good reasons, don't put it off. I let my one eye go way too far for financial reasons (and yes, fear of surgery). It finally got to the point the it was really affecting my work and HAD to be done - then I really wished that I hadn't wasted those months waiting. I'm waiting on the second eye (it isn't nearly as bad) just because of time constraints, but as soon as things free up a little for me I will have it done even though the doc says it really isn't necessary yet.

The difference in vision was incredible - you have to experience it to understand how great it was to see again. Please, check out the other links in the hub. They are primarily of my own experience, and it just isn't that bad.

Margaret Perrottet from San Antonio, FL on August 21, 2012:

I'm going to have to get surgery in the future as both my eyes are affected by cataracts. I'm not looking forward to it, but know it needs to be done. I'm putting it off until the doctor says I have to do it. Good informative article!

Deborah from Las Vegas on August 21, 2012:

this is an informative hub. Unfortunately, we have tendency to take our eyes for granted (some of us) and this is great information to share. Wonderful, voted up and shared!

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