Cataracts may appear as cloudy, white areas in the middle region of a person’s eyes. A person may not know they have cataracts until their vision becomes blurry and less colorful.

A cataract is a clouding of the clear part of the eye that helps focus light. It is usually not visible until it is advanced, when it appears as a cloudy, white patch in the transparent disc region of the eyes.

These patches can become more prominent, causing blurry, misty vision, and eventually blindness. Cataracts are often caused by vision changes associated with aging, but they can also be caused by conditions such as diabetes.

This article explores what cataracts look like, including symptoms and some frequently asked questions.

A person looking through a small looking glass. People may see cloudy opaque patches in their eyes in the later stages of cataracts.Share on Pinterest
Francesco Carta fotografo/Getty Images

The lens region of the eye is usually transparent. A person with cataracts may notice that this region becomes cloudy or opaque over time. This can occur due to changes in the proteins and fibers that make up the lens.

The lens is located behind the colored part of the eye, known as the iris. The lens transmits light to the retina, which sends the image to a person’s brain.

If the lens is cloudy due to a cataract, this scatters light through the lens, preventing well-defined images from reaching a person’s retina. As a result, a person’s vision becomes blurred.

Learn more about the causes of blurry vision.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, cataracts can make colors appear dull, faded, or different. People with cataracts may feel that colors are less vivid, and they may experience a yellowish or brownish tint in their vision.

A 2019 study found that age-related cataracts affect color perception in older adults. This may be due to the light-scattering effect of a cataract as it passes through the lens.

Learn more about what cataract vision looks like.

Halos are bright rings of light in people’s vision that surround light sources. People often notice them at night when looking at streetlights and headlights.

Halos around lights are one of the most common symptoms of cataracts. Cataracts can cause the light that enters the eye to bend unusually, causing halos around lights.

A person may notice a significant blurring of boundaries around the object or light source when looking at bright lights or objects surrounded by darkness. Also, it can significantly affect vision clarity while driving.

Cataracts can affect a person’s ability to see in dim light and at nighttime, leading to poor night vision.

Poor night vision can be one of the first symptoms of cataracts, as the condition can increase glare and make vision blurry. This can also affect driving at night.

Learn more about night blindness.

Light sensitivity or photophobia is another common symptom of cataracts. A person with cataract-related light sensitivity may have trouble with bright sunlight and indoor lights that seem too bright.

People with cataracts may need to shield their eyes from the light, often to prevent eye pain.

Learn more about photophobia.

Cataracts can cause a person to see images split in two (double vision) or ghosted images, rather than a single, clear image.

This is due to the cloudy patches caused by cataracts in the lens of the eye, which can distort and blur a person’s vision. Double vision can occur even if a person closes one eye.

The double vision may sometimes disappear as the cataract gets bigger.

Learn more about the causes of double vision.

When cataracts start to develop, people often need an eyeglasses prescription change. This may initially restore a person’s vision.

As cataracts worsen, however, there may be a point where a person’s vision doesn’t improve, even with new eyeglasses.

Learn more about how to find out your glasses prescription.

A person should contact a healthcare professional or eye doctor — such as an optician, optometrist, or ophthalmologist — if they experience any of the following symptoms:

  • blurry vision
  • double vision or seeing a ghosted image
  • having trouble seeing well at night
  • being extra sensitive to light
  • seeing bright colors as faded or yellow

A healthcare professional or eye doctor will be able to diagnose cataracts and recommend appropriate treatment options. They may suggest surgery if a person feels their vision is interfering with their daily life.

Learn more about cataract surgery.

Here are some frequently asked questions about cataracts.

What are the first signs of cataracts in the eyes?

According to the National Eye Institute, cataracts don’t cause symptoms in the very early stages.

However, later signs or symptoms of cataracts include:

  • blurry vision
  • colors that seem faded
  • trouble seeing at night
  • sensitivity to light
  • double vision

When do cataracts usually start?

Most cataracts develop due to changes in a person’s eyes as they get older.

Aging, injury, certain medication such as steroids, and other factors can change the tissue that makes up the eye’s lens. This can happen from age 40, when the proteins in the eye lens may break down and clump together to form a cataract.

Can you see a cataract in the mirror?

As a cataract progresses, it may appear as a cloudy white patch that is visible in the mirror.

Cataracts appear as a cloudy white patch in the eye lens, which is the clear transparent part of the eye.

In the early stages, cataracts may be asymptomatic. As the condition progresses, symptoms can include blurry vision, double vision, light sensitivity, and poor night vision.

If a person develops symptoms of cataracts, they should see a healthcare professional or an eye doctor immediately.