What are the 3 most common types of cataracts?

There is no evidence that cataracts can be prevented or that their progression can be slowed. Still, managing risk factors like smoking and drinking could be helpful, and getting regular eye exams can help you detect cataracts early. Different types of cataracts develop at different rates, but all of them can lead to progressive vision loss and, potentially, blindness. Congenital cataracts, which some people are born with, don’t always affect vision, but they can. Very early cataracts may not be symptomatic, but they will eventually develop. There is no way to reverse cataracts. Managing risk factors, like UV exposure, can help slow the progression, but the only way to treat cataracts is with surgery. 

If you’re looking for information on the main types of cataracts along with their causes and symptoms, here’s a straightforward breakdown. 

Cortical Cataracts

Cortical cataracts form on the outer edge of the lens and work their way inward as they progress, disrupting light absorption inside the eye. 

What is a Cortical Cataract?

Cortical cataracts begin as whitish streaks or wedge-shaped marks on the outer edge of the lens cortex. As these cataracts slowly progress, the streaks start to reach the center and interfere with how light passes through the lens. This causes light to scatter, leading to hazy vision. 

Symptoms of a Cortical Cataract

A person with a cortical cataract will begin to develop the following symptoms as the cataract progresses: 

  • Hazy vision 
  • Severe glare when looking at a light source
  • Difficulty distinguishing between similar colors
  • Trouble judging how far away an object is
  • Double vision in the eye affected by the cataract

Causes of a Cortical Cataract

Cortical cataracts can be caused by age, but they can also happen as the result of an eye injury. If there is a history of cataracts in your family, you should be proactive in participating in comprehensive eye exams to check for cataract development. 

Some risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing cortical cataracts include lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, along with smoking. 

Diagnosis and Treatment of a Cortical Cataract

Cortical cataracts are diagnosed using a visual acuity test and slit-lamp exam. Poor performance on a visual acuity test (also known as the “reading test”) could be an early indicator of cataract development. However, a slit-lamp exam is the only way to confirm that a cataract is present as it allows an eye doctor to examine the cornea, iris, and lens.. 

Surgery is the only way to correct a cortical cataract, but early stages may be managed using prescription glasses or contact lenses. Cataracts develop through multiple stages and surgery can be performed at any stage. There is no benefit to delaying cataract surgery and, in some cases, it can make cataracts more difficult to remove. Once a patient is symptomatic, meaning the cataract is affecting their vision, it should be removed. 

Subcapsular Cataracts

Subcapsular cataracts occur near the center of the lens and they tend to develop faster than other types of cataracts. 

What is a Subcapsular Cataract?

Subcapsular cataracts occur on the posterior or back portion of the crystalline lens, causing opacities or “cloudiness” that impacts vision. Due to its central position, subcapsular cataracts can have a more significant impact on vision, even in the earlier stages of development. 

Symptoms of a Subcapsular Cataract

The primary symptoms of a subcapsular cataract include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Severe glare when looking at a light source
  • Halos appearing around bright lights, like headlights
  • Reduced near vision 
  • Difficulty distinguishing between similar colors
  • Double vision in the eye affected by the cataract

Causes of a Subcapsular Cataract

Like other forms of cataracts, subcapsular cataracts can be caused by aging, but they can also form due to exposure to steroid medications, radiation, blunt trauma, and intraocular inflammation. Certain diseases can also cause subcapsular cataracts, including uncontrolled diabetes and certain skin disorders.

Diagnosis and Treatment of a Subcapsular Cataract

Subcapsular cataracts are best diagnosed with a slit-lamp examination. Ophthalmologists note that this type of cataract often has a feathered appearance. Prescription glasses can help correct vision problems in the very early stages of a subcapsular cataract, but surgery is the only treatment.

Surgery for a subcapsular cataract often involves an ultrasonic probe, which is used to break the cataract so that the damaged lens material can be suctioned out of the eye through a small incision. A new lens is then implanted. 

Nuclear Cataracts

Nuclear cataracts occur at the center of the lens. 

What is a Nuclear Cataract?

Nuclear cataracts involve opacities or clouding in the lens nucleus, which is at the center of the lens. Nuclear cataracts cause the nucleus to darken, changing from clear to yellow, and sometimes brown. The central location of a nuclear cataract makes it more likely to impact vision early on. 

Symptoms of a Nuclear Cataract

Nuclear cataracts affect distance vision more than near vision, which can make driving more difficult. If you have nuclear cataracts, you may experience: 

  • Objects appearing blurry
  • Trouble seeing things in bright light 
  • Severe glare from headlights at night 
  • Difficulty seeing objects at a distance, like street signs
  • Colors appearing faded

Diagnosis and Treatment of a Nuclear Cataract

Nuclear cataracts can be diagnosed during a routine eye exam as they cause visible clouding and yellowing in the central part of the eye. If a cataract is suspected, a slit-eye examination will likely be performed so your doctor can take a closer look. 

If your ophthalmologist confirms the presence of a nuclear cataract, surgery will need to be scheduled to remove the damaged lens and replace it with a new artificial lens. 

What to Expect If You Have Cataracts

There are many different types of cataracts, but all of them lead to clouding of the lens inside the eye and will progress indefinitely until the lens is replaced. There is no non-surgical way to get rid of cataracts, but cataract surgery is a simple, outpatient procedure and has a very high success rate with no pain and minimal downtime. 

If you have questions about cataract removal, schedule a consultation to speak with one of our specialists. Call  713-730-2020 or select a time online to take the next step toward restoring your vision.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the stages of cataract development? 

Cataracts develop in four stages. During the first stage, the lens still looks clear, but minor vision changes become noticeable including loss of near vision. In the second stage, the lens becomes yellow, with loss of image quality and decreased contrast and night vision. In the third stage, cataracts cause reduced vision with poor image quality and loss of night and color vision. By the fourth stage, cataracts are considered hyper-mature, leading to hardening and the risk of other complications, like glaucoma. 

How many days of rest are needed after cataract surgery?

Following cataract surgery, it is recommended that you take it easy for 48 to 72 hours. For at least a week after the surgery, you should avoid rubbing your eye and wear your eye shield while sleeping. You can continue to bathe or shower as usual. The full recovery period typically lasts about four weeks. 

What makes cataracts worse?

Cataracts form naturally as we age and the lens breaks down, but certain risk factors can worsen cataracts, including drinking, smoking, and exposure to UV radiation. Wearing sunglasses whenever you’re outside during the day, especially near water, sand, or snow, will help protect your vision from damage.