What Are the 3 Different Types of Cataracts?

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Cataracts are one of the most common age-related vision conditions. They occur when your eye’s natural lens becomes clouded, preventing light from focusing clearly on the retina. There are three common types of cataracts:

  • Nuclear sclerotic cataracts
  • Cortical cataracts
  • Posterior subcapsular cataracts

Symptoms develop gradually. However, as your eye’s lens becomes increasingly clouded from cataract development, you will begin to notice progressively dim and blurry vision. Eventually, you will need to undergo cataract surgery to replace your eye’s clouded lens with an artificial intraocular lens. This will restore clear vision.

illustration of a healthy eye and an eye with cataracts

Nuclear Sclerotic Cataracts

Nuclear sclerotic cataracts are the most common type of age-related cataract. They develop deep in the central portion of your eye’s lens, called the nucleus. Over time, your lens will harden and turn a yellowish/brown color. It often takes several years before a nuclear sclerotic cataract significantly impacts your vision.

You’ll experience several changes in vision as nuclear sclerotic cataracts progress in severity. Initially, you may actually find that near vision improves. However, this phenomenon, referred to as second sight, doesn’t last long. Eventually, it will become increasingly difficult to see small details. In addition, you may experience halos when viewing bright objects at night, and colors may appear less rich.

Cortical Cataracts

Cortical cataracts develop on the outer edge of your eye’s lens, called the cortex. Initially, white wedge-like triangles develop along the cortex due to changes in the water content of your lens fibers. As these cataracts mature, they grow towards the center of your eye and resemble spokes on a wheel.

These spokes will scatter light, resulting in deteriorating near and distance vision. Common symptoms of cortical cataracts include:

  • Glare (often making it difficult to drive at night)
  • Hazy vision
  • Depth perception issues
  • Problems with contrast (the ability to tell the difference between similar colors)

Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts

Posterior subcapsular cataracts develop along the back surface of the lens, just beneath the capsule which surrounds your eye’s lens and holds it in place. These cataracts directly obstruct the path of light as it hits the lens. As a result, onset of symptoms typically occurs more rapidly than with other types of cataracts. Common vision issues include:

  • Glare or halos around bright light
  • Difficulty with near vision tasks such as reading

You may be at increased risk of developing posterior subcapsular cataracts if you:

  • Have diabetes
  • Use steroids
  • Suffer from retinitis pigmentosa
  • Have extreme nearsightedness

Other Types of Cataracts

While much less common, there are several other types of cataracts. These include:

  • Anterior subcapsular cataracts – These develop inside the front portion of your lens capsule and are commonly caused by swelling or eye trauma.
  • Congenital cataracts – These develop at birth or early in childhood. They are often genetic, but can also be caused by an illness to the mother during pregnancy.
  • Secondary cataracts – These develop as the result of a medical condition such as diabetes or glaucoma. In addition, the use of certain steroid medications such as prednisone may cause secondary cataracts.
  • Radiation cataracts – Excessive exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays without proper eyewear may result in the development of radiation cataracts. In addition, they may occur after receiving radiation therapy during cancer treatment.
  • Posterior polar cataracts – These form on the back central portion of your lens, and are often genetic. In most cases, posterior polar cataracts don’t cause any symptoms.
  • Anterior polar cataracts – These form on the front central portion of your lens. They also don’t usually cause any symptoms.

Contact our Loveland Cataract Surgeon

Dr. John Kirk is a board-certified ophthalmologist with decades of experience treating cataracts. He uses the most advanced cataract surgery techniques to help you restore clear vision.

Please contact Kirk Eye Center using the form on this page or call 970-669-1107 today to schedule a consultation. We serve patients in Loveland, Fort Collins and throughout Northern Colorado.