What are cataracts?

Cataracts are caused by a build-up of protein that clouds the eye’s lens, which can lead to blurred vision and eventual blindness.

A close-up of a patient's face showing the milky cataracts in their eyes.

Cataracts are an eye condition caused when the lens of the eye develops cloudy patches. Over time these patches usually grow bigger, causing blurry, misty vision.

There are different types of cataracts, depending on which part of the eye’s lens is affected: they can affect the centre, the sides, or the back of the lens. They can appear in just one eye or in both eyes, although they may not develop at the same time. Eventually, if they’re not treated, cataracts can lead to blindness.

What causes cataracts?

Cataracts are caused by a build-up of protein in the eye, and usually develop because of old age. However they can also appear as a result of eye injuries or following eye surgery for other problems. They can also be present from birth: in many poorer countries, where healthcare and treatment may be less readily available, childhood cataracts can be a major cause of blindness.

A close-up of a man's eyes with a milky cataract clearly visible in his left eye.

How do cataracts affect vision?

What does the world look like when you have cataracts? Our simulator will give you an idea.

Try the simulator
12.6 million
people are blind because of cataracts
cataract operations were supported by Sightsavers in 2021
can pay for an adult cataract operation

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

  • Blurred, dim or misty vision
  • Difficulty seeing in low light or at night
  • Sensitivity to light: lights look too bright or glaring
  • Colours look faded or muted
  • Seeing a ‘halo’ around bright lights
  • Everything looks more ‘washed out’

If you have cataracts, things can start to look dim, blurred or distorted, as if you’re looking through dirty glass. Your vision may seem cloudy, and it can also be hard to make out details or colours.

Try our vision simulator to see what the world looks like when you have cataracts.

An older women smiling.

Azimunnisa’s story

Eleven years ago, Azimunnisa had a cataract operation to save her sight. It transformed her life: today she’s an advocate for eye health.

Read her story

How are cataracts treated?

Surgical staff perform a cataract operation.

Cataract operation

Cataract surgery for adults is carried out under local anaesthetic. The procedure usually takes as little as 20 minutes to complete.
Watch a time-lapse of the surgery

A close-up of the plastic lens that's implanted into the eye during a cataract operation.

Replacement lens

During the operation, the clouded lens is replaced with an artificial lens. If a patient has cataracts in both eyes, they will have separate operations for each eye.

A doctor removes the dressing from a woman's eye as she lies on a bed.

Recovery after surgery

After cataract surgery, the patient’s vision starts to return within a few hours. After post-operative checks, the bandages are removed and they can often go home the same day.

Our work to treat cataracts

Sightsavers aims to make it easier for people to be treated for cataracts, especially in poorer countries where surgery is not always readily available.

We also want to improve the quality of cataract surgery and increase the number of operations that are able to be performed.

To achieve this, we aim to improve community health programmes and increase the number of surgeons, nurses and community workers trained in eye health, as well as educating people about cataracts and explaining where to get treatment.

Since our work began in 1950, Sightsavers has helped to provide 8.3 million cataract operations in poorer countries, and trained more than 1,020 surgeons to perform the operations.

But we need your help to save the sight of people with cataracts: donating to our charitable cause can help to change lives.

An eye examination to screen someone for a range of eye conditions costs less than a cup of coffee, and could be the first step towards restoring their vision.

Donate and help us save sight

I would like to make a donation

could buy instruments, dressings and pharmaceuticals for five cataract operations.

could pay for life-changing cataract surgery for four adults.

could pay for sight-saving operations for two children with cataracts.

We're sorry, but the minimum donation we can take is $3
We're sorry, but we cannot process a donation of this size online. Please contact us on [email protected] for assistance donating over $15,000

could pay for replacement lenses for four children with cataracts.

could restore the sight of an adult suffering from cataracts.

could pay for a life-changing childhood cataract operation.

We're sorry, but the minimum donation we can take is $3
We're sorry, but we cannot process a donation of this size online. Please contact us on [email protected] for assistance donating over $15,000

More about cataracts

A group of girls and boys hold up medals after taking part in a football match.

Spectrum Markets helps children in Nigeria get sporty for World Children’s Day

Students in Nigeria celebrated by taking part in a football match using sports equipment donated by one of Sightsavers’ corporate partners.

November 2022
Arif and his mother sit on a bed chatting.
Sightsavers Reports

“Now I know what a gift sight is”

Arif’s life changed when he had two cataract operations at five years old. We've been following his journey since then, from completing his education to finding work as a driver.

Asmau and Fatima, both wearing coloured headscarves, smile and embrace at their home in Nigeria.
Sightsavers Reports

“Thank God for giving us a mother who loves us so much”

In Nigeria, one community is home to a family in which nearly every member has experienced visual impairment. Amina and six of her seven children have had eye surgery to treat cataracts, ensuring they all have the chance to thrive.