Cataracts are cloudy areas that form on your eye’s lens. Age-related cataracts are the most common type. Symptoms include blurry vision and glare around lights. Cataract surgery removes your clouded lens and replaces it with a clear artificial lens called an IOL. Providers recommend surgery when cataract symptoms interfere with your daily life.
Cataracts are cloudy areas that form on the lens of your eye. Your lens is a clear, flexible structure made mostly of proteins (crystallins). As you get older, the proteins in your lens break down, forming cloudy patches that affect your vision.
You may feel as if you’re looking at the world through a dirty window. Over time, your vision gets worse. You may have a hard time carrying out routine tasks.
Healthcare providers consider cataracts an inevitable part of aging, and age-related cataracts is the most common form of the condition.
But you don’t have to live with fading vision. Ophthalmologists can do surgery to remove the cataracts and restore your vision.
There are many types of cataracts. This article focuses on age-related cataracts. Other cataract types include:
There are several types of age-related cataracts. Their names refer to their location in your lens. To understand these types, it helps to learn a bit about the anatomy of your lens.
Your lens is made up of a few layers. You can think of them like the layers of an apple:
Eye care providers classify cataracts based on where they form in your lens. Often, people have more than one type at the same time. That’s because it’s common for cloudy patches to form in multiple areas of your lens. The three most common types of age-related cataracts are:
The proteins in your eye’s lens start to break down around age 40. But you typically won’t notice symptoms until age 60 or later. Certain medical conditions, like diabetes, may cause you to have symptoms sooner.
Cataracts are very common in the U.S. and globally. According to the World Health Organization, about 17% of people around the world have cataracts that cause problems with their vision. However, the prevalence varies widely by country and region. There’s a higher prevalence in middle-income and low-income nations where people often have more risk factors and limited access to cataract treatment.
In the U.S., nearly 1 in 5 people age 65 to 74 have cataracts that affect their vision. More than 50% of people over age 80 either have cataracts or had surgery to remove them.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Cataract symptoms include:
Cataracts don’t usually hurt. But they can cause discomfort by making your eyes more sensitive to light.
The main cause of cataracts is the gradual breakdown of proteins in your lens.
However, certain genetic and environmental factors can raise your risk of developing cataracts or developing them at a younger age compared with others.
Risk factors for cataract formation fall into three main groups: environmental, medical and genetic.
Environmental risk factors are those that you encounter in the world around you. They’re sometimes toxic substances that you breathe in or ingest. Environmental factors are harmful because they increase the amount of free radicals in your body. These are unstable molecules that damage healthy cells. Free radicals, by harming the cells in your eye’s lens, can lead to cataract formation.
Environmental risk factors include:
Limiting your environmental exposures may slow down cataract formation. Researchers continue to look into the exact role that preventive measures play.
Medical risk factors can that raise your risk for cataracts include:
A family history of cataracts raises your risk of developing them. Some genetic mutations lead to congenital cataracts (present at birth). When it comes to age-related cataracts, genetic mutations may make your lens more vulnerable to damage from environmental risk factors. Researchers continue to explore these connections.
So, while you can’t change your genetic risk, it helps to know your family history and share it with your provider.
Ophthalmologists and optometrists diagnose cataracts through a comprehensive eye exam. Your provider will closely examine your eyes to look for signs of cataracts and assess their severity. Your provider will also ask you about your vision, your medical history and if you’re having trouble with everyday tasks because you can’t see as well as you once did.
Specific tests you may have include:
Cataract surgery is the only way to remove cataracts and restore your clear vision. During cataract surgery, an ophthalmologist removes your clouded natural lens and replaces it with an intraocular lens (IOL). An IOL is an artificial lens that permanently stays in your eye. There are many different options for IOLs that your provider can discuss with you.
The main benefit of an IOL is that it’s clear — like your natural lens should be. Another benefit is that it can correct refractive errors, allowing you to rely less on glasses or contact lenses after your surgery.
Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most commonly performed surgeries in the U.S. Most people have no serious complications. But it’s important to be aware of all possible risks, including retinal detachment and infection.
Certain eye diseases or underlying medical conditions can raise your risk of complications. So, you should talk to your provider about your individual level of risk prior to your surgery. Also, ask how they can treat any potential problems that may occur.
You may have mild pain and discomfort after your surgery. Your provider can give you a pain reliever to use for the first day or two.
Full recovery takes four to eight weeks. But you should notice improvements in your vision much sooner. Your provider will tell you when it’s safe to return to your usual activities.
Developing cataracts is a typical part of aging. However, you can take a few steps to protect your eye health and potentially slow the process:
An ophthalmologist or optometrist is the best person to ask about your outlook. They’ll examine your eyes and the severity of any cataracts you have.
Early on, you might not need surgery. The changes to your vision may be mild. But cataracts can progress over time, causing more noticeable symptoms. If your symptoms start to interfere with your daily life, your provider may recommend surgery to help you safely go about your usual tasks.
There’s a lot you can do to take care of yourself if you have cataracts. Tips include:
Contact your provider if you have symptoms of cataracts or if you notice any changes in your vision. Issues like blurred vision can signal many potential eye problems, aside from cataracts. So, it’s important to see a provider and learn the cause of your symptoms so you can receive appropriate treatment.
Seek emergency care immediately if you have symptoms of a retinal detachment. This is a rare but serious complication of cataract surgery that affects about 1 in 100 people. Warning signs include:
Some questions you may want to ask your provider include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Cataracts are a common part of aging, but that doesn’t make a diagnosis any more pleasant to hear. The prospect of eye surgery might make you feel nervous, and you might wonder what your vision will be like afterward.
Try not to worry too much. Remember that cataract surgery is one of the most common and routine procedures in the U.S. Chances are, you know at least one person who’s had the surgery and can serve as a resource for you. Talk to them and ask about their experiences. But don’t feel pressured or rushed to schedule surgery. Work with your provider to decide the right timing for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/07/2023.
Learn more about our editorial process.