What does vision look like with cataracts?

22 September 2022

Cataracts can be a huge inconvenience, negatively affecting the lives of people across the world. Learning as much as you can about the eye condition can help you recognise the symptoms. Join us as we attempt to illustrate what vision would look like with cataracts.


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How do cataracts affect vision?

Normal vision is when light enters and passes through the lens of your eye. The lens focuses that light into a sharp image on the retina. This then relays messages through the optic nerve to the brain. If the lens becomes cloudy as you develop cataracts, the image you see will be blurry. Other vision problems (such as myopia) can also cause blurry vision. However, the different types of cataracts produce distinctive signs and symptoms.

Early cataract vision

In the early stages of a cataract, you may not notice any significant changes to the clarity of your vision. At this stage, you may be more sensitive to glare around lights when driving at night, or if the sun is low. As a cataract progress further, you may then begin to notice your vision becoming cloudy or blurry.

Later stage cataract vision

Left untreated, a cataract will develop to late-stage. It can become visibly noticeable to other people, appearing as a milky spot at the centre part of the eye. It’s this that creates the vision impairment. With a late-stage cataract, patients will have very limited vision, may need to stop driving, and may become more reluctant to go out and about alone.

What would my vision look like if I had cataracts?

If, like most people, you rely on your eyes every day, having impaired vision is a scary thought. To protect yourself from eye problems, it’s therefore important to be able to recognise the different symptoms of cataracts.

Blurred image of a street simulating vision with a cataract

Cloudy or blurry vision

This is the most common symptom of cataracts. It can affect both distance and reading vision which may appear foggy. If left untreated, the clouding of the lens means the cataract will worsen, with less light able to get through the lens.

Double vision

Occasionally, cataracts can cause double vision (sometimes called diplopia) in one eye. Unlike double vision when both eyes are open, which is caused by the eyes not lining up together, with a cataract in one eye, vision appears double in the affected eye.

Glare

Glare, or sensitivity to light, is another early symptom of cataracts. You may have trouble with bright sunlight and indoor lights that may appear with halos. You may also struggle to drive at night due to the glare of streetlights and oncoming headlights.

Light sensitivity

Similar to glare, light sensitivity is another early symptom of cataracts. It occurs when the eye lens isn’t clear, which causes the incoming light to scatter. As a result, vision can be blurred and coping with bright light is difficult.

Changes in colour vision

Cataracts can affect how you perceive colour. This can make some hues and shades look faded. If left untreated, your vision may appear brown or yellow. Over time it may also become harder to distinguish blues and purples.

Difficulty seeing at nightVisual representation of driving at night in low light

Cataract patients with poor night vision (or night blindness) have trouble seeing in dim light or darkness. This means the eyes take a very long time to adjust when going from light to dark. Patients experiencing this cataract symptom struggle in low light conditions such as driving at night and in cinemas.

For more examples of what your vision would look like if you were suffering from a cataract or vision impairment, use the vision simulator on the National Eye Health week site.


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How to improve vision with cataracts

While you might not be able to do much to reduce waiting times for cataract surgery, there is some cataract guidance you can follow to manage your general eye health:

Avoiding hazards – With reduced vision, even floors and objects around your house can become trip hazards. Removing rugs and taking care around uneven surfaces can help avoid falls.

Increase the size of reading font – Instead of reading, why not try podcasts or audiobooks? Post can be made easier to read by notifying your providers to send mail with enlarged font.

TV Audio Description – If your cataracts are affecting enjoyment of your favourite TV shows, you can enable TV Audio Description. This will describe what’s happening on the screen, so you won’t miss a thing.

Avoid bright lights – If you’re struggling to read, sitting with your back to bright lights can help. Otherwise, you should use blinds and curtains to shield your eyes from bright sunshine. However, as cataracts reduce the level of light entering the eye, some patients find reading easier if an anglepoise lamp is held close to the text. Some patients use a small torch when shopping to help them see ingredients or price labels if the lighting in the shop is poor.

Getting help – Enlisting the help of family and friends to help with chores and daily activities is a great idea. However, the help doesn’t have to end there. There are various charities dedicated to eye care that can help you with advice. Maintaining a healthy diet, attending regular eye exams, and not smoking can also be very beneficial to keeping your eyes healthy.

Can glasses improve vision with cataracts?

The short answer is: no. Prescription glasses cannot treat or cure cataracts, the only cure for cataracts is eye surgery. However, with the right prescription, glasses or contacts can help to correct issues caused by cataracts in the short term. Some cataract patients develop significant changes in their glasses prescription. Corrective lenses can help with blurry vision and difficulty seeing objects at a distance. Changes to the glasses prescription due to cataracts can happen frequently which can prove expensive in the long run.

Vision after cataract surgery

Good news! You should be able to go home the same day as your surgery. It may take some time for your vision to fully settle and it’s normal to experience some blurring or initial discomfort following surgery.

Initially after your private cataract surgery, you’ll be given eye drops to use during the day and an eye shield to wear overnight. These must be used as recommended by your surgeon. Take painkillers if needed, but otherwise use your eyes as normal. You may need to wear sunglasses outside, avoid strenuous exercise, and try not to rub your eyes for the first few weeks after surgery.

When you’ve fully recovered, it’s time to start enjoying the benefits of being cataract-free! Thanks to your new artificial lens, your vision should be much improved. You’ll be able to drive again without the struggle of blurred or cloudy vision, and your general quality of life should improve. You are likely to still need glasses to help get the best out of your vision, but your vision will be much clearer!

How long after cataract surgery does vision improve?

You should start to regain the feeling in your eye only a few hours after surgery. However, it may take a few days for any blurriness to clear up and your vision to fully return.

Longer term, your eye should be fully recovered and healed within 8 weeks.

Improve your vision

There are a few things you can do to help keep your vision healthy:

  • eating a healthy diet with lots of green leafy vegetables
  • not smoking
  • getting regular exercise
  • wearing sunglasses in bright light
  • attending regular eye checks (once a year)

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