Cloudy vision: how to tell if it's a sign of cataracts
You might have cloudy vision if objects in the distance seem ‘milky’, like you’re looking at them through a frosted window. This can affect your day-to-day life, making it difficult to do a number of normal activities. There are a number of causes of cloudy vision, including a range of eye conditions, like myopia and astigmatism.
One particular condition is cataracts. But how do you know if this is the cause of your cloudy vision?
Here, we’ll break down cloudy vision and help you understand if it’s a sign of cataracts, and what you should do about it.
What causes cloudy vision?
Cloudy vision can take a toll on your lifestyle, often making it difficult to read, drive, or see faces clearly. A number of eye conditions can cause this, including:2
- Myopia (short-sightedness): objects at a distance appear blurry
- Astigmatism: both near and far objects appear distorted and blurry
- Presbyopia: age-related change in the ability to focus on near objects
- Cataracts: cloudy vision due to changes in the lens of the eye affecting vision at all distances
There are also other less common causes of cloudy vision, including corneal abrasions (where the cornea becomes scratched), dry eyes, opacification (where a cloudy layer of scar tissue forms beneath the lens), or scarring of the cornea (the clear part in front of the eye). On top of this, other causes can include optic neuritis, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, infections and inflammation. If you are experiencing a sudden deterioration in vision, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Why do cataracts cause cloudy vision?
Cataract is a common eye condition in which the lens inside the eye loses its transparency. The lens is the part of the eye that helps to focus light on the retina, the light-sensitive layer on which images are formed. In healthy eyes, the lens is transparent and allows light to pass through. When the lens is cloudy from a cataract, the images formed are foggy.2
The lens of the eye works like a camera to focus light on the retina and form images, adjusting to allow us to see objects at varying distances. Cataracts are made up of clumps of protein which cloud the lens – it’s a bit like cooking an egg white where the transparency gradually gives way to milky cloudiness. Usually, both eyes are affected, but vision may be better in one eye than the other.3
Cataracts mainly occur in older people, often developing as part of the natural ageing process. In fact, in the UK, cataracts account for more than one-third of the cases of vision impairment in people above the age of 75.4
Is my cloudy vision a sign of cataract development?
Many cases of early-stage cataracts do not affect the eyesight substantially and you’d usually be unaware of any vision problems, which is why regular eye tests are so important to detect any changes. A common first symptom of early cataract, however, is that night vision may not seem as good as it once was. As the cataract grows in size, more of the lens gets clouded and there may be more noticeable symptoms.
Reading under brighter lights and wearing stronger glasses can help at this stage — but over time it can start to interfere with your everyday life, which is when you should seek out some treatment. Cataract surgery is a safe and effective procedure for advanced stages of the condition and leads to improved vision for most patients.
But, how can you tell if you have a cataract? Only an ophthalmologist can make a definitive diagnosis, but some of the symptoms and signs of cataract include:5
- Cloudy vision (like looking through fog)
- Increasing difficulty seeing at night
- Sensitivity to glare and bright lights
- Need for brighter lights to read
- Appearance of haloes around lights
- Faded colours
- Double vision in one eye
- Frequently changing glasses or contact lens prescription
If you are noticing any cloudiness or other changes in your vision, it’s important to first make an appointment for an eye exam. If you have symptoms such as sudden eye pain, severe headache, double vision, flashes of light, or rapid deterioration in vision, then get in touch with your optometrist right away.5
What can I do to prevent cataracts?
Age is a well-known cause of cataracts, and changes in chemical composition and normal wear-and-tear are thought to be the reasons why the lens starts to get cloudy. In fact, most people have at least some clouding of the lens by the age of 60. Other risk factors for cataract include injuries, prior eye surgery, diabetes, a family history of cataracts, and the use of corticosteroid medications. Hormone therapy can also increase the risk, as can smoking and drinking alcohol. People with long-term exposure to sunlight are more likely to develop cataracts.3
Though you can’t necessarily prevent cataracts, there are a couple of lifestyle choices you can make to reduce your risk.3 These include avoiding tobacco use, drinking alcohol in moderation, eating a healthy diet, and protecting your eyes from the sun with sunglasses and hats. Also, adults should get their eyes examined every two years, or more frequently if recommended by your optometrist, to identify any eye problems before they begin to affect vision.
For more information on cataracts, you can find it on our dedicated resource page or get in touch with your local store to discuss any queries.
1. National Eye Institute. (no date). Facts About Refractive Errors. [Online].
[Accessed 31 August 2019].
2. National Eye Institute. (no date). Facts About Cataract. [Online]. Available at: https://nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts [Accessed 31 August 2019].
3. Harvard Health Publishing. (published July 2010). By the way, doctor: What can I do to prevent cataracts. [Online]. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/what-can-i-do-to-prevent-cataracts [Accessed 31 August 2019].
4. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists. (no date). The Way Forward. [Online]. Available at: https://www.rcophth.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/RCOphth-The-Way-Forward-Cataract-300117.pdf [Accessed 31 August 2019].
5. Mayo Clinic. (no date). Cataracts. [Online]. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cataracts/symptoms-causes/syc-20353790 [Accessed 31 August 2019].
BSc (Hons) MCOptom Prof Cert Glauc. Prof Cert Med Ret.
Ross is an experienced optometrist, pre-registration optometrist supervisor, and lead assessor for the Wales Optometry Postgraduate Education Centre (WOPEC)… Read more