FAQ – I can’t see well, do I have cataract?

I frequently get this question from people especially who are 40 years plus. Many are concerned about this problem but they don’t have enough time to visit an ophthalmologist. This post gives you a broad understanding of this visual problem.

The answer to the above question is no and yes, in that order of probability.

In this context, it is important to know that refractive errors are the most common cause of poor visual acuity. Cataract is not that common and appears usually in your fifties, sixties or later. It may appear earlier if you have some systemic diseases like diabetes.

One of the most frequent causes of significant visual problems around and after the age of 40 is presbyopia. Broadly, it is a condition in which we lose the ability to focus on near objects and usually manifests in difficulty reading small print. If you force yourself to read the small print for a few minutes and then suddenly try to look at an object at some distance, you won’t see it well for a few minutes.

This is explained by the ability of the lens in our eyes to modify its shape – more curved and less curved – to focus on near and distant objects respectively (see the image above). This property of our lens is gradually lost after the age of 40.

So, if you notice visual problems around the age of 40 years and you don’t have any systemic diseases, most probably it is because of presbyopia which can easily be corrected with glasses.

If you have visual problems in your fifties or later years, the odds are that it may still be corrected with glasses – both for near and distance. Less commonly, it could be because of cataract which is part of aging and the only treatment for cataract is surgery.

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