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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss


What Are Cataracts?

Cataracts are cloudy areas in part or all of the lens of the eye.

In a young person, the lens is crystal clear and allows light to pass through and focus on the retina. Cataracts prevent light from easily passing through the lens, and this causes loss of vision.

Cataracts often form slowly and cause no pain, redness, or tearing in the eye. As the lens ages, the nucleus or center of the lens turns yellow and loses its ability to accommodate (focus for close work) although the lens usually remains clear.

As the lens continues to age, the nucleus turns from yellow to amber and ultimately to brown. This condition is almost universal in older persons. A cataract is not significant, however, until it interferes with vision. If a cataract becomes large or dense, it usually can be removed by surgery. Some cataracts stay small and don't change eyesight significantly.

While cataracts result in diminished acuity because of the opacification of the lens, it does not affect a particular portion of the field of vision.

Signs and Symptoms of Cataracts

  • Patients with cataracts experience decreased visual acuity, more difficulty seeing in poorly lit environments due to decrease in contrast sensitivity.

  • Many people experience increased sensitivity to light and glare. Print appears hazy and contrast is limited.

  • Approximately 50 percent of Americans between 65 and 74, and 70 percent over age 75 have cataracts.

Common Symptoms Include:

  • Distance vision can be blurred especially outdoors, but without any eye pain.

  • Double vision; seeing "ghost images."

  • Sensitivity to glare, such as the reflection of light from metal on a car, road or pavement, or fluorescent ceiling lights may cause glare.

  • Print appears faded and lacking in contrast and is difficult to read in dim light.

  • Colors appear faded or changed in hue, for example, a blue may seem to be a shade of green; white may appear gray or beige, and yellow may appear white.

  • Sunglasses may appear to reduce vision.

  • Frequent changes of eyeglasses that do not help may be an indicator.

Ways to Help Individuals with Cataracts

  • Use bright primary colors with high contrast.

  • Provide reading materials that have high contrast, such as large black print on white or light yellow paper, a minimum of 18 point. Bold 18 point print is very helpful.

  • If printing, use black felt-tip pens on white paper for highest contrast. Use white dishes on a dark tablecloth, place mat, or tray.

  • Adjust window shades to reduce direct sunlight.

  • Move the TV so that the sunlight is behind the TV and move chairs in the direction against the sunlight.

  • Wear sunglasses and a hat when outdoors on sunny days.

Treatment of Cataracts

  • Cataract surgery has a high success rate. Ninety-five (95) percent of patients experience improved vision if there are no other eye conditions present.

  • During surgery, the doctor removes the clouded lens and, in most cases, inserts a clear intraocular lens of appropriate power.

  • Cataract surgery is generally very safe. Complications do result from cataract surgery in approximately 5 percent of cases. It is one of the most common surgeries performed in the United States.

  • Thick lenses after surgery are no longer needed because of the implanted lens.

  • Many people with vision loss can enhance their visual functioning with the use of low vision devices.

  • Low vision devices are devices which are stronger than regular eyeglasses, and include microscopic and telescopic glasses, lenses that filter light, and magnifying glasses.

  • There are also some useful electronic devices that can either be hand-held or placed directly on the printed page.


American Academy of Ophthalmology
655 Beach Street
P.O. Box 7424
San Francisco, CA 94109-7424
Telephone: 415-561-8500
Fax: 415-561-8533
Web site:

American Foundation for the Blind
National Aging Program
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
New York, NY 10001
Telephone: 800-232-5463; 212-502-7634
Fax: 212-502-7771
Web site:

American Optometric Association
243 Lindbergh Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63141
Telephone: Toll-free 888-396-EYES (3937) or 314-991-4100
Fax: 314-991-4101
Web site:

Council of Citizens with Low Vision International
c/o American Council of the Blind
1155 15th Street N.W., Suite 720
Washington, DC 20005
Telephone: 800-733-2258
Fax: 317-251-6588

The Lighthouse International
111 E. 59th Street
New York, NY 10022
Telephone: 800-334-5497
Fax: 212-821-9727 or 9728
Web site:

National Eye Institute
National Eye Health Education Program
2020 Vision Place
Bethesda, MD 20892-3655
Telephone: 301-496-5248
Fax: 301-402-1065
Web site:

National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Telephone: 410-659-9314
Fax: 410-685-5653
Web site:

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