FAQs About Cataract Blindness: How Fast Does It Happen?

Cloudy with a chance of blindness? Don’t ignore it. Age-related cataracts, which begin to develop between 40 and 50, take decades to cause blindness. However, other cataract types can cause vision loss more quickly, and neglecting the problem can lead to fatal accidents.


What Are Cataracts and How Do They Affect Vision?

A cataract appears as a white or grayish overcast on the lens of the eye, which is normally clear. As it progresses, it can seem like you’re looking through a frosted or fogged-up window.


How Do Cataracts Develop?

As you age, the lenses in your eyes become less flexible, less clear, and thicker. Proteins and fibers within the lenses can break down and clump together, leading to the clouding characteristic of cataracts. This clouding progresses over time, worsening your vision by blocking light from passing through your lens and preventing sharp images from reaching your retina.


What Are the Common Symptoms of Cataracts?

a woman getting an eye check up

You may not notice having a cataract in its early stages. But as it grows, it can make your vision blurry, hazy, or less colorful. Common symptoms include difficulty reading, sensitivity to light and glare, seeing “halos” around lights, and needing frequent changes in prescription glasses. Cataracts develop slowly in most cases, so changes in vision may also progress gradually.


How Quickly Do Cataracts Worsen?

Cataracts develop at different rates for different people. While most individuals experience slow and steady changes in their eyesight through the years, some may experience rapid vision impairment. As for how long it takes to go blind from cataracts, there is no exact way to predict how quickly a cataract will progress.


What Are the Types of Cataracts?

Cataracts vary in terms of type and the underlying causes. Understanding their differences will help with diagnosis and treatment.


Age-Related Cataracts

The most common form of cataract, also known as a senile cataract, develops with age and leads to gradual, progressive clouding and thickening of the lens.

Cortical cataracts (affect the lens’ edges) and nuclear cataracts (affect the lens’ center) are common examples of fast-growing cataracts due to advancing age.


Traumatic Cataracts

Cataracts that develop after an eye injury may emerge immediately after the trauma or years down the road. Their treatment can be complex if other eye structures sustain damage.


Pediatric Cataracts

Pediatric cataracts are either present at birth or arise during childhood. These cataracts may be inherited or caused by eye conditions and injuries. Early treatment prevents further vision issues like amblyopia (lazy eye).


Secondary Cataracts

Secondary cataracts, also referred to as posterior capsular opacification (PCO), often develop after cataract surgery. They appear as cloudy patches on the lens capsule. Fortunately, a quick, low-risk, painless laser treatment can easily correct this common complication.


Can Cataracts Really Cause Blindness?

Cataracts are a leading cause of blindness in older adults in the United States. While it may take decades to happen, a cataract left untreated can cause total blindness, albeit not in all cases. On the other hand, a traumatic cataract may develop within weeks of an injury, as well as progress and lead to blindness within a few years.


Can Cataracts Kill?

The disease itself cannot kill, but visual loss due to cataracts increases morbidity and mortality as a result of physical injuries, poor cognition, disability, and decreased mental health.


What Makes Cataracts Progress Faster?

A number of factors can accelerate cataract progression and speed up vision loss:


Lifestyle Factors

photo of cigarettes

Lifestyle choices influence how fast a cataract grows. For example, smoking and excessive sun exposure contribute to faster cataract development. Additionally, prolonged exposure to indoor kitchen smoke can exacerbate cataract severity. Managing these factors by quitting smoking, wearing UV-protective eyewear outdoors, and using an exhaust fan while cooking can help slow progression.


Medical Conditions

Some medical conditions can impact cataract development. For instance, diabetes expedites cataract formation due to high blood sugar levels stimulating abnormal changes in the lens structure. Other conditions, such as obesity and previous eye surgeries or injuries, also contribute to fast-developing cataracts. Managing these health issues can help slow overall progression.


When Should You Consider Cataract Surgery?

Cataract surgery is the primary treatment for this eye disease. It involves removing the clouded lens and, in many cases, replacing it with an artificial lens to restore clear vision.

You should talk to your doctor about undergoing cataract surgery when the condition begins to impair your daily activities or quality of life. Symptoms that may signal the need for surgical intervention include difficulty driving during the day or night, challenges reading due to blurry vision, reduced performance at work, or when non-surgical methods like stronger prescription lenses no longer provide adequate vision improvement.


Types of Surgical Procedures

The most common surgical method is phacoemulsification, where an ultrasound tool breaks up the cloudy lens for removal. Alternatively, laser-assisted cataract surgery (LACS) uses lasers to perform some of the manual steps of traditional surgery.

For advanced or dense cataracts, extracapsular cataract extraction can remove the lens in one piece instead of breaking it up within the eye, like in phacoemulsification. However, this cataract removal procedure is often a last resort due to its longer surgical time, longer recovery time, and increased postoperative astigmatism.


Is It Safe to Delay Cataract Surgery?

doctor and patient consultation

Studies show that postponing cataract surgery for six months can result in a higher likelihood of falls and a decline in quality of life due to worsening vision. Delaying treatment can also cause a cataract to become too dense, hard, and pearly white (hypermature cataract), which can reduce the surgery’s success rate.


Is Blindness from Cataracts Permanent?

If lens clouding from a thick cataract is the only cause of vision loss, extracting the cataract can reverse blindness.



Never underestimate the importance of early detection through a comprehensive eye exam, as it gives you the best chance to manage cataract progression effectively. If you live in or around Sun City and Phoenix, AZ, taking the initiative to monitor your eye health is a commendable step towards safeguarding your eyesight. If you believe your vision may be at risk or you’re due for an eye exam, we encourage you to contact us to set an appointment. Such measures contribute to your overall well-being and ensure you remain happy and active in life, with clear vision lighting the way forward.


Get in touch with Arizona Retinal Specialists by calling 623-474-3937 today.


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