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Katie Iverson, PA-C, MPAS
By Katie Iverson, PA-C, MPAS on June 05, 2023

Understanding Cataracts: Identifying the Signs and Symptoms

Understanding the signs and symptoms of cataracts is essential for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment planning. Let’s explore the key indicators that can help us as medical providers to identify and address cataracts effectively.


What are Cataracts?

Cataracts refer to the clouding or opacification of the lens in the eye, which leads to a progressive decline in vision. This condition often occurs due to changes in the proteins within the lens, causing it to become less transparent. 

Cataracts are predominantly age-related, but they can also be:

  • Congenital due to maternal infections such as Rubella and Rubeola
  • Disease-related due to conditions such as diabetes
  • Medication-related due to long term use of corticosteroids
  • Trauma-related due to UV light exposure, chemical injuries, or blunt force
  • Secondary to an ocular disease such as chronic anterior uveitis

Signs and Symptoms of Cataracts

Cataracts typically present with the following six signs and symptoms:

  1. Gradual vision loss with blurred or hazy vision
    The most common early symptom of cataracts is blurred or hazy vision. Patients often report experiencing a gradual decline in the clarity of their vision. They may find it challenging to focus on objects, read small print, or see clearly in low-light conditions. This symptom can be likened to viewing the world through a foggy or frosted glass. The vision loss associated with cataracts is painless.

  2. Sensitivity to light and glare
    Cataract-affected individuals often become more sensitive to light and glare. They may find it uncomfortable to be in brightly-lit environments or struggle with the glare from headlights while driving at night. This increased sensitivity to light and glare can significantly impact their ability to safely perform daily activities.

  3. Changes in color vision
    Patients with cataracts may notice a change in their perception of colors. Colors may appear faded, yellowish, or less vibrant than before. The ability to distinguish between shades and hues may become challenging, leading to difficulties in recognizing traffic lights or differentiating clothing colors.

  4. Poor night vision
    Cataracts can affect an individual's ability to see clearly at night or in dimly-lit areas. Patients may experience decreased contrast sensitivity and an overall reduction in visual acuity in low-light conditions. This symptom can make driving at night particularly challenging and hazardous.

  5. Double vision
    In some cases, cataracts can cause double vision or multiple images in one eye. This condition, known as monocular diplopia, can occur when the cataract affects only one eye. Patients may report seeing ghost images or experiencing distorted vision.

  6. Frequent prescription changes
    Cataracts can lead to frequent changes in a patient's eyeglass or contact lens prescription. As the cataract progresses, the refractive error of the eye may change, necessitating adjustments in vision correction. Individuals with cataracts often have an increase in nearsightedness, called myopic shift. Patients who require frequent prescription changes should be evaluated for the presence of cataracts.

Cataracts can significantly impact an individual's quality of life. As medical providers, recognizing the signs and symptoms of cataracts is crucial for early diagnosis and appropriate management. 

Encourage regular eye exams and prompt referrals to ophthalmologists for evaluations when cataracts are suspected. By staying vigilant and addressing cataracts promptly, we can help our patients maintain clear vision and improve their overall well-being. 

Published by Katie Iverson, PA-C, MPAS June 5, 2023
Katie Iverson, PA-C, MPAS