Cataracts Overview

Cataract Overview
Understanding Cataracts: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Cataracts are a prevalent eye condition characterized by the clouding of the lens inside the eye. This lens is responsible for focusing light onto the retina to create clear images. When cataracts develop, the proteins in the lens begin to degrade, causing a change in consistency and a loss of clarity.

diagram of normal eye, clouded lens, eye with cataract

People with cataracts often experience difficulties in recognizing colors, perceiving changes in contrast, recognizing faces, and driving at night due to decreased vision quality. While cataracts can occur for various reasons, the most common factor is age. They can develop at any age, but most often begin forming around the age of 40 and progress gradually over several years.

The recommended time for cataract removal is when they start significantly impacting daily activities, such as driving, reading, or using a computer. Cataract surgery, a common and highly successful procedure, involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial one, leading to improved vision and a better quality of life.

What Causes Cataract?

  • Age

  • Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.

  • Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

  • Diabetes and other medical conditions.

  • Genetic factors

  • Certain medications, such as corticosteroids.

What Are the Symptoms of Cataracts?

You might not have any symptoms at first, when cataracts are mild. But as they grow, cataracts can cause changes in your vision.

  • Blurred or cloudy vision.

  • Difficulty seeing at night.

  • Increased sensitivity to glare, especially from headlights or the sun.

  • Frequent changes in eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions.

  • Double vision in one eye.

  • Fading of colors or yellowing of vision.

photo of blurred vision and faded colors

How Are Cataracts Diagnosed?

Cataracts are frequently detected during a standard eye examination. Here's what to expect during the diagnostic process:

  1. Vision Assessment: Your eye doctor will begin by assessing your visual acuity. This involves reading an eye chart to determine the clarity of your vision, both up close and at a distance.

  2. Comprehensive Eye Exam: During the exam, your eye doctor will carefully examine the various components of your eye, including the lens, where cataracts develop. They will use specialized equipment to magnify and illuminate the lens for a thorough evaluation.

  3. Discussion of Visual Complaints: It's important to communicate any vision-related concerns or symptoms you may be experiencing. Issues such as blurred vision, sensitivity to light, or difficulty with nighttime vision can be indicators of cataracts.

  4. Assessment of Cataract Severity: Based on the findings from your examination, including your visual complaints, your eye doctor will determine the extent of the cataract's impact on your vision. This evaluation helps decide whether surgical correction is necessary at this stage.

Types of Cataracts

Most people have heard of cataracts. However, only a small number are aware that there are different varieties. Here’s what you need to know about the main types of cataracts.

​​​​​​​Nuclear Sclerotic Cataracts
Nuclear sclerotic cataracts are the most common variety of cataracts. They are known as nuclear because they begin life in the nucleus, which is the center of the lens. As a nuclear sclerotic cataract progresses, it can spread from the nucleus to other areas of the eye.

Conventional cataracts are caused by the natural hardening of the lens of the eye, which happens with advancing age. People with this type of cataracts usually have better near than intermediate or long-distance vision. Age is the biggest factor in their development, but smoking will increase the likelihood of you developing this type of cataract. Most nuclear sclerotic cataracts develop slowly.

Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts​​​​​​​
Posterior subcapsular cataracts get their name from the fact that they form on the back surface (posterior) of the lens, and beneath the lens capsule. The lens capsule is a small membrane that covers the lens, protecting it and holding it in place. Anyone can develop this type of cataract, but if you have diabetes, severe myopia, use steroids, or are regularly exposed to radiation, you are at greater risk.

While cataracts usually develop slowly, posterior subcapsular cataracts actually cause much faster deterioration of vision than other types, with the first symptoms becoming apparent in a matter of months.

Cortical Cataracts
Cortical means the outer layer of something. Perhaps unsurprisingly, cortical cataracts are a type of cataract that develops on the edge of the lens and then extends inwards towards the center in a manner that is similar to a bike spoke. This progression scatters the light as it enters the eye.

diagram of types of cataracts

Cataracts are a common eye condition, but with early detection and appropriate treatment, vision loss can often be reversed or prevented.

​​​​​​​If you or a loved one is experiencing vision changes or cataract-related symptoms, schedule an appointment today with one of our cataract specialists.

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