Diagnosing Cataract in Adults

At NYU Langone, our ophthalmologists frequently diagnose cataracts, a common eye condition in older people. They use the newest and most accurate diagnostic tools to detect cataracts—even in the initial stages—allowing for earlier treatment and improved eye health. 

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that commonly occurs with age. The lens focuses light onto the retina, which is located at the back of the eye. This helps to create an image that is processed by the brain. The lens is made of water and protein and is naturally transparent. With age, however, the protein can clump together and create a cloud in part of the lens. This is known as a cataract.

Cataracts are commonly diagnosed in both eyes at the same time and can cause painless blurring of vision or double vision in the affected eyes. Some people may experience light sensitivity or perceive that colors are fading or yellowing. People with a cataract may also experience poor night vision or require a brighter light to read comfortably. 

Causes and Risk Factors

Because aging is usually the cause of cataracts, everyone is at risk of developing them. Having your vision checked by an ophthalmologist is the best way to detect a cataract as it begins to form, before it can interfere with your vision. 

Other, less common causes of cataracts include chronic inflammation of the eye, long-term use of steroid medications, and trauma from an injury to the eye or head. Children can be born with congenital cataracts, but this is rare. 

Certain people have a greater risk of developing cataracts. People who have diabetes, for example, may have periods of sustained high blood sugar levels. This can damage the eye and lead to the development of cataracts. People who have undergone radiation treatment for cancer are also prone to developing a cataract. Experts think this may be because radiation can affect enzymes in the eye that are responsible for protecting the lens. 

People who have had eye surgery, especially surgery involving the retina, may also be at higher risk. This is because the use of a surgical instrument to manipulate the eye can trigger changes in the lens that may lead to the development of cataracts.

There is no definitive way to prevent a cataract. However, experts believe it is crucial to prevent eye damage caused by ultraviolet radiation, which may increase the risk of eye problems occurring as you age. NYU Langone specialists recommend protecting your eyes by wearing sunglasses and limiting exposure to the sun. 

Routine Eye Exam

Our ophthalmologists can diagnose a cataract during a routine eye exam. First, your doctor may ask you about your symptoms and any recent changes in your vision. 

To detect a cataract, your ophthalmologist puts eyedrops into your eye to dilate, or widen, the pupil. This allows your doctor to clearly view the lens of the eye and the retina. 

If a cataract is found, your doctor considers its size, your age, and your overall health in determining if treating the cataract with surgery might be the right option for you.

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