What are cataracts?

At UW Health, we perform thousands of cataract procedures each year.

A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens. When this happens, light cannot pass to the back of your eye and your vision becomes hazy. We use advanced technology to treat your eyes so that you recover faster and achieve better vision.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Six common cataract symptoms

Cataracts can have few symptoms, or they can prevent you from seeing well enough to do the things you want to do.

Common cataract symptoms include:

  • Changes in the way you see colors

  • Cloudy, fuzzy, foggy or filmy vision

  • Double vision

  • Frequent changes in your eyeglass prescription

  • Problems driving at night because oncoming headlights seem too bright

  • Problems with glare from lamps or the sun

Comprehensive eye exam

Cataracts are a common part of aging. About half of Americans ages 65 to 74 have cataracts. About 70 percent of those older than 75 have them.

Regular eye exams help your doctor spot cataracts as soon as they begin to develop. A simple eye exam is all that is needed for a cataract diagnosis. Try to get an eye exam once a year, or as often as your doctor recommends. 

Bring any glasses or contact lenses you normally wear to your exam. During the exam your doctor will:

  • Test your vision

  • Check the pressure in your eyes

  • Examine your eyes for cataracts, corneal clarity, glaucoma, tumors and retinal disease

  • Address any other concerns or problems you have with your eyes or vision

If your doctor needs a better look inside your eyes, you may receive eye drops to dilate your pupils. This makes your eyes sensitive to light for a few hours.

Treatments and research

Cataract treatments

Cataracts are painless. They develop over time as the lens becomes cloudy. In most cases, cataracts do not need to be removed right away.

Instead, you can change your glasses, use stronger bifocals or a magnifying glass to improve your vision. If you become unhappy with the way you see or you cannot easily complete regular activities, it might be time for surgery. Your doctor will talk with you about your options and what to expect.

Types of cataract surgery

The lens of your eye is enclosed in a lining called the lens capsule. Cataract surgery separates the cataract from the lens capsule. In most cases, the lens is replaced with an intraocular lens implant (IOL). If an IOL cannot be used, contact lenses or eyeglasses must be worn after surgery.

If you have a cataract in both of your eyes, your doctor may say it’s best to wait until your first eye heals before having a second surgery.

There are three types of cataract removal surgery:

The eye surgeon removes the lens, leaving behind the outer covering of the lens.

The surgeon removes the entire lens, including the capsule. This method is rarely used.

In this type of extracapsular surgery, the surgeon softens the lens with sound waves and removes it through a needle. The back half of the lens capsule is left behind.

You can expect a quick improvement in your vision. It will take a few months for your eye to heal after surgery.

You will not need to stay overnight in the hospital for cataract surgery. You will need someone to drive you home afterward.

Care for a cloudy lens after surgery

 A cataract cannot return. But the lens capsule can become cloudy after certain surgeries. A cloudy lens capsule takes months or years to develop. It causes the same vision problems as a cataract. A procedure called YAG capsulotomy can improve your vision. The doctor uses an invisible laser to make a tiny hole in the capsule. This lets light pass through. This surgery is painless and does not require a hospital stay.

Researching improved treatments

UW Health is an international leader in eye research. We have more than 40 active clinical trials. These trials advance the care of eye disorders and help us study the basic mechanisms of eye disease. Our doctors are always working to improve cataract surgery techniques. They also teach these advancements to future doctors.

‘This is a miracle that I can see this clearly.’

Mary Regel
Mary underwent cataract surgery in 2019, and it was life changing.

Meet our team

Dedicated to you

Your eye care team includes doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating cataracts. They work alongside clinical optometrists, nurses and technicians.

Patient and support services

Is cataract surgery right for you?

Please ask your doctor lots of questions as you consider cataract surgery.

Helpful resources


Easy-to-access cataract care

You can see an eye doctor about cataracts at many UW Health eye clinics throughout Wisconsin. 

The best care for the best vision possible

Eye Care Services