Cataract Diagnosis and Symptoms

Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss among adults aged 55 and older. The Comprehensive Ophthalmology and Cataract Consultation Service provides cataract surgery for patients at Mass. Eye and Ear.

What is a cataract?

A cataract is a progressive clouding of the natural crystalline lens inside the eye.

There are four primary reasons that cataracts develop:

  • The most common form of cataract is associated with normal aging, which can cause the lens to harden and turn cloudy. These are called "senile cataracts" and generally affect people 50 years or older.
  • Traumatic cataracts may result from injuries: a sharp blow, an electrical or chemical burn, or a very high dose of radiation.
  • Certain medications, such as steroids, or diseases, such as diabetes, can also cause the lens to cloud and form secondary cataracts.
  • In rare cases, children can be born with cataracts. This primarily occurs because of heredity factors or because the mother had a disease during pregnancy.

When significantly advanced, this cloudiness interferes with the passage of light to the retina, and blurry vision results. A person who develops a cataract in one eye will usually develop a cataract in the other eye as well, although the second cataract may not develop for several years.

What are the signs and symptoms of cataracts?

Depending on the size and location of the cloudy areas in the lens, a person may not realize a cataract is developing. Signs include:

  • Vision becomes blurry, hazy, or washed out
  • A reduction in night vision
  • A sensitivity to light and glare
  • A need for frequent changes in eyeglass prescription
  • Double vision in one eye

For more information about cataracts, please visit our webpage under the Cornea and Refractive Surgery Service.