Age-related cataracts

Cataracts are when the lens, a small transparent disc inside your eye, develops cloudy patches. Over time these patches usually become bigger causing blurry, misty vision and eventually blindness. See your optician if you have symptoms of cataracts, (see ‘when to get medical advice section below).

About age-related cataracts

When we're young, our lenses are usually like clear glass, allowing us to see through them. As we get older, they start to become frosted, like bathroom glass. This begins to limit our vision.

Cataracts usually appear in both eyes. They may not necessarily develop at the same time or be the same in each eye.

They're more common in older adults. They can affect your ability to carry out daily activities such as driving.

Cataracts can also affect babies and young children. For more information, read about childhood cataracts.

When to get medical advice

You should see an optician if you have any of these symptoms:

  • your eyesight is blurred or misty
  • you find lights too bright or glaring
  • you find it harder to see in low light
  • colours look faded

If you wear glasses, you may feel your lenses are dirty and need cleaning, even when they don't.

Cataracts aren't usually painful and don't make your eyes red or irritated. But cataracts can be painful if they're in an advanced stage or if you've got another eye condition.

Your optician will do a series of eye tests. These will include a visual acuity exam. This measures how well you see at various distances.

If your optician thinks you have cataracts, you may be referred to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) for more tests and treatment.

Treating age-related cataracts

If your cataracts aren't too bad, stronger glasses and brighter reading lights may help for a while.

But cataracts get worse over time. So you'll eventually need surgery to remove and replace the affected lens.

Surgery is the only treatment that's proven to be effective for cataracts.

Driving and cataracts

If you have cataracts, it could affect your ability to drive.

You must tell the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) if you have cataracts in both eyes.

You don't need to tell the DVA if you have cataracts in only one eye, unless you:

  • also have a medical condition in the other eye
  • drive for a living

If you drive a taxi, bus, coach or lorry, you must tell the DVA if you have cataracts in one or both eyes.

Causes of age-related cataracts

It's not entirely clear why we are more likely to develop cataracts as we get older. But some things may increase your risk of cataracts, including:

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published July 2018

This page is due for review April 2021

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