​Additional Resources

Learn more about Ophthalmology services at UPMC.


A cataract is a common eye disorder that affects more than half of all people over age 60, although cataracts can develop in much younger people . This page was prepared to answer some of your questions about cataracts and to give you information about what to expect after cataract surgery. It is meant to add to, not replace, discussions with your doctor. If you have any questions not addressed by this booklet, ask your doctor.


As the drawings below show, your eye has several parts. These parts work together much like a camera. The clear cornea lets light enter the eye, and the lens focuses the light on the retina. A cataract results when this clear lens becomes clouded, so that less light passes through the lens, much as a dirty window reduces the amount of light entering a room. When the lens becomes clouded, most people experience changes in their vision. Some people think of a cataract as a new growth of skin or tissue over the eye. As the drawings show, this is not the case.  


Symptoms of cataracts

The symptoms of cataracts vary, but they may include the following:

  • Blurred vision
  • Poor night vision, “halos” around lights at night
  • Double images
  • Need for brighter reading light
  • Markedly reduced vision from glare or bright lights
  • Frequent changes in eyeglass prescription


These symptoms can be signs of other eye disorders. For an accurate diagnosis of your vision problems, see an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) as soon as possible.

Cataracts are detected during routine eye examinations. Early detection of cataracts is important. A cataract in an advanced stage may prevent a full examination of the back of the eye (the retina). It is important that the eye doctor be able to examine the retina to check for other disorders, such as chronic inflammation or changes to the eye cause by diabetes.

In a normal eye, the clear lens focuses light on the retina.

When a cataract develops, the lens becomes cloudy, reducing the amount of light passing through it to the retina.

Causes of cataracts

While no one knows exactly what causes cataracts, these factors are related to their development:

  • Age-related cataracts. Most cataracts occur with aging. Although most cataracts occur in people age 60 or older, the lens can harden and turn cloudy as early as age 40.
  • Congenital cataracts. Congenital cataracts are present at birth. They may be hereditary or may be related to infections that affect the pregnant mother and unborn baby.
  • Traumatic cataracts. Eye injuries can lead to cataracts in people of any age.
  • Secondary cataracts. Secondary cataracts are related to certain eye inflammations and to diseases such as diabetes.


Treatment for cataracts

A clouded lens cannot be made clear again. Surgery to remove the clouded lens is the only treatment. Several types of surgery are available. Your doctor will discuss which one is best for you.


Once your doctor removes the cataract from your eye, you will need a substitute lens. Several kinds of substitute lenses are available. They include:

  • Lenses (called intraocular lenses, or IOLs) that your doctor inserts permanently inside your eye during the surgery to remove your cataract
  • Hard or soft contact lenses, fitted after the eye heals, that you wear all day but take out at night.
  • Special extended-wear soft contact lenses that you leave in your eye for a period of time determined by your doctor

With any type of substitute lenses, you still may have to wear glasses.

After cataract surgery

The recovery period after cataract surgery varies from one person to another. After your operation, you may experience some itchiness or a sensation of something being in your eye. These sensations are usually caused by the uneven surface of the incision. Medications will be prescribed for you that will help healing and may lessen these sensations. Do not touch or rub your eye.


Protecting your eye

Your doctor may suggest that you wear dark glasses if you experience uncomfortable sensitivity to light at first. He or she may suggest that you wear your regular glasses during the day and a protective eye shield while you sleep.

Take special care when putting on or taking off eyeglasses so that you do not injure your eye. Place your thumbs over the ends of the ear pieces of your glasses when you put them on and take them off.

Cleaning and medicating your eye

Wash your hands before and after cleaning your eye or applying eye drops or ointment.

To clean around your eye, moisten a clean washcloth with lukewarm tap water or eye cleansing solution. Starting next to your nose, use the washcloth to remove secretions from your eye and lash area. Gently wipe the lids and lashes. Do not press on your eye.

To apply eye drops or ointment, place a finger on your cheek under the lid and pull the skin downward. Hold the skin against your cheekbone to form a “V” pocket in your lower eyelid. (See illustration below.) Insert the drops or ointment into the space between your eyeball and lower lid. Do not allow the dropper tip or ointment tube to touch your eyeball.

Wash your hands after you have cleaned and medicated your eye.

Follow the cleaning and medication schedule your doctor gives you.

Congenital cataracts

Congenital cataracts are present at birth. They may be hereditary or may be related to infections that affect the pregnant mother and unborn baby. Activity after surgery

After surgery, move slowly so that you do not fall or bump into objects. Because your depth perception will not be accurate when you have a patch over one eye, be careful walking up and down stairs and when pouring hot liquids.

Ask your doctor what activities you can do. You may find it helpful to ask your doctor the following questions:

  • When can I shower, take baths, and shampoo?
  • When can I watch television or read?
  • When can I lift objects that weigh more than a few pounds?
  • When can I resume sexual relations?
  • When can I wear eye makeup again?

Call your doctor if you have any questions; if you have any increase in redness, pain, or discharge; or if your vision changes suddenly.

Myths about cataracts

Many mistaken ideas exist about cataracts. In truth:

  • A cataract does not spread from eye to eye, though cataracts may develop in both eyes at the same time.
  • A cataract is not related to cancer.
  • A cataract is not removed by laser.
  • A cataract is not visible on the outside of the eye.
  • A cataract is not caused by overusing the eyes and is not made worse by using the eyes.
  • A cataract usually develops gradually over many years, rarely over a few months.


Medication schedule

Your doctor has designed the following medication schedule for you. Follow these instructions carefully.


Put ___ drop(s) of ______________________ in your _________ eye ________ times a day.

Put ___ drop(s) of ______________________ in your _________ eye ________ times a day.

Put ___ drop(s) of ______________________ in your _________ eye ________ times a day.

Put about 1/4 inch of ___________________ in your _________ eye ________ times a day.

For emergencies call

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences | Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit www.healthwise.org

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA | UPMC.com