Cataracts

Cataracts are an eye problem in which the lens (front surface of the eye) gets cloudy and difficult to see through. If you look at a person, dog, or cat with cataracts, their eyes look like there is a white film over the colored part of their eye.

Cataracts are very common and the leading reason for blindness worldwide. Cataracts are twice as common in people with diabetes than in the general population. However, with regular eye exams and treatment, cataracts can be prevented, slowed, or fixed with surgery.1,2

What causes a cataract?

Doctors do not fully understand why we develop cataracts, with or without diabetes. However, some doctors believe that high blood glucose levels cause deposits to build up on the lens of the eye. This may explain why people with diabetes also tend to develop cataracts at younger ages, and more serious cataracts, more quickly.1,2

Symptoms

There are several signs that you may be developing cataracts. Common vision changes include:3

  • Blurry, hazy vision or trouble seeing details
  • Seeing double (seeing 2 images instead of 1)
  • Being more sensitive to light
  • Trouble seeing at night
  • Needing more light to read or do other tasks
  • Seeing faded or yellow colors that once were bright

Some people describe cataracts as similar to looking through a foggy or dusty car windshield.

If you notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment with an ophthalmologist. You will need a dilated eye exam. “Dilated’ means the doctor will put some drops in your eyes that make your pupils open more than normal. This lets the doctor see deep inside the eye and helps them diagnose what is causing your vision problems.

Treatment

You may be able to slow down the development of cataracts by protecting your eyes from sunlight. To do this, wear regular eyeglasses and sunglasses that have a UV (ultraviolet) coating. A UV coating helps block the most damaging rays of the sun. It also helps to wear a hat while outside.3

You may be diagnosed with cataracts but not yet need surgery. During this in-between time, your doctor may recommend that you:3

  • Control your blood glucose levels more closely
  • Avoid driving at night
  • Use brighter lights and a magnifying glass for reading and other detailed tasks
  • Quit smoking
  • Get a new prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses

Controlling your diabetes and stopping smoking may help slow how fast your cataracts get worse.

Surgery

Surgery is the only way to remove cataracts. However, you will probably not be scheduled for this surgery until the cataracts are getting in the way of you doing what you need or want to do. During cataract surgery, your doctor will remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a clear artificial lens.4

You will be given instructions for what to do after surgery. For example, you may be told to go home and lie still for a certain number of days and avoid touching your eyes. You will be given an eye shield to protect your eyes while you sleep in the days and weeks after cataract surgery.4

Other common diabetic eye diseases include: 2

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Written by: Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: March 2021.