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Understanding Nuclear Sclerotic Cataracts: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Nuclear sclerotic cataracts are a common type of age-related eye condition that affect millions worldwide. These cataracts can cause vision changes and impact quality of life, making it important to understand their causes, symptoms, and treatment options. 

What Are Nuclear Sclerotic Cataracts?

Nuclear sclerotic cataracts are an age-related eye condition that affects the central portion of the lens in the eye, known as the nucleus. Cataracts occur when the lens becomes cloudy or opaque, leading to vision changes, such as these:

  • Blurriness
  • Difficulty seeing at night 
  • Sensitivity to glare

Nuclear sclerotic cataracts are typically caused by the natural aging process, and they are most common in people over 60 and aging animals. As the cells in the eye start to break down, they cannot repair themselves anymore. As a result, the lens becomes cloudy and hard to see through.

Other factors contributing to the development of nuclear sclerotic cataracts include exposure to UV radiation, smoking, diabetes, and certain medications.

Treatment for this condition usually revolves around surgical means, involving the removal of the cloudy lens and replacement with a synthetic lens. However, this may vary depending on the extent of the disease.

Nuclear Sclerotic Cataracts Symptoms

The most common symptoms of nuclear sclerotic cataracts are blurry vision and a decreased ability to see in low light.

If you have a nuclear cataract, you may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty with the glare from headlights at night
  • Seeing lights as halos in your peripheral vision at night
  • Double vision
  • Fading or dullness of colors
  • Poor color differentiation
  • Poor distant vision 

If you think you might be suffering from nuclear sclerosis or have a nuclear cataract, it’s important to get it checked out by a doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital to preventing further vision loss.

Causes & Risk Factors for Nuclear Sclerotic Cataract

The cause of nuclear sclerosis is not fully understood, but it is believed to be a natural part of the aging process and the natural hardening of the lens that occurs with time. Nuclear sclerotic cataracts can occur in both young and older people, but it is more common in older adults.

Below are some risk factors linked to nuclear sclerosis:

  • Age: As we age, the lenses in our eyes become less flexible and more prone to developing cataracts. Therefore, older individuals are more likely to develop nuclear sclerotic cataracts.
  • UV radiation exposure: The sun’s UV radiation can cause damage to the cells in the lens of the eye, increasing the risk of cataracts. Therefore, prolonged exposure to UV radiation may increase the likelihood of developing nuclear sclerotic cataracts. Wearing sunglasses and a hat can help to protect the eyes from UV radiation and reduce the risk of cataracts.
  • Smoking: Studies have shown that smokers are more likely to develop cataracts, including nuclear sclerotic cataracts. The harmful chemicals in cigarettes can damage the lens and increase the risk of cataracts. 
  • Diabetes: People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing cataracts, including nuclear sclerotic cataracts. High blood sugar levels can cause changes in the lens and increase the risk of cataracts.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as corticosteroids, can increase the risk of cataracts. Talk to your doctor about the potential risks and benefits of any medications you are taking. You can specifically ask about any vision-related risks associated with a particular medication.

It is important to note that these are only some risk factors for nuclear sclerotic cataracts, and not everyone with these risk factors will necessarily develop this condition. Talk to a health care professional about your specific risk factors.

Diagnosis of Nuclear Sclerotic Cataracts

The diagnosis of nuclear sclerotic cataracts typically involves a comprehensive eye examination. During the test, the eye care professional will assess your vision, check the health of your eyes, and look for signs of cataracts.

Some of the tests that may be performed during an eye examination for the diagnosis of nuclear sclerotic cataracts include:

  1. Visual acuity test: This test measures how well you can see at different distances.
  2. Slit-lamp examination: This test allows the eye care professional to examine the front of the eye, including the cornea, iris, and lens, using a special device called a slit lamp.
  3. Dilated eye examination: In this test, the eye care professional will dilate the pupils of your eyes with eye drops and then examine the inside of your eyes using a lighted instrument called an ophthalmoscope.
  4. Refraction test: This test measures how well your eyes can focus on objects at different distances.

If the eye care professional suspects that you have a nuclear sclerotic cataract, they may recommend further testing or refer you to a specialist for additional evaluation.

Treatment Options 

If you have been diagnosed with nuclear sclerotic cataracts, there are a few different treatment options available to you. However, the best course of action will depend on the severity of your cataracts and how much they impact your vision.

Most ophthalmologists either recommend a “watch and wait” approach where they monitor your cataract’s development or surgery. Once the cataract grows to a certain point, surgery is the primary recommendation.

Cataract Surgery

Treatment for nuclear sclerotic cataracts typically involves surgical removal of the cloudy lens. This surgery is called cataract surgery and is generally performed by an ophthalmologist. 

During the surgery, the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with a clear manufactured lens known as the intraocular lens (IOL). This is the only way to “cure” cataracts.

Here’s why you should consider cataract surgery:

  • Cataract surgery is a safe and effective procedure performed on millions of people yearly.
  • Most people experience significant improvement in their vision after the surgery.
  • There are several different types of IOLs available. The type of IOL that is used will depend on the individual patient’s needs and preferences.

Other Treatment Options

In some cases, cataract surgery may not be recommended, such as in cases where the patient has certain medical conditions that make surgery risky. In these cases, the ophthalmologist may recommend other treatments, such as these:

  • Eyeglasses
  • Contact lenses

Ultimately, corrective lenses will aim to improve vision issues that are due to your cataract.

It’s important to speak with an ophthalmologist if you are experiencing vision problems or have been diagnosed with a cataract. They can help determine the best course of treatment for your specific needs.

How to Prevent Nuclear Cataracts

While it is not always possible to completely prevent cataracts, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and maintain healthy vision. 

  • Wear sunglasses: Wearing sunglasses that block UV rays can help to prevent or slow the development of nuclear cataracts.
  • Eat a healthy diet. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, especially those high in antioxidants, may help to reduce your risk of cataracts.
  • Avoid smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor for developing cataracts, so quitting smoking can lessen your risk for them.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of developing cataracts, so maintain a healthy weight to reduce your risk.
  • Get regular eye exams. Regular eye exams can help to detect cataracts in their early stages when they are more easily treated. If you have any concerns about your vision or are experiencing symptoms like blurry vision or sensitivity to light, be sure to talk to an eye doctor as soon as possible.

It’s important to note that while these steps may help to reduce your risk of developing nuclear cataracts, they cannot completely prevent them. If you have a family history of cataracts or other risk factors, it’s important to take good care of your eyes and get regular eye exams. Since aging is a factor, you can’t do anything to reduce that risk factor.

How Are Nuclear Sclerotic Cataracts Different From Other Cataracts?

Nuclear sclerotic cataracts are a type of cataract that develops in the nucleus, or center, of the lens of the eye. On the other hand, common cataracts occur in the lens’s nucleus and other parts of the lens.

Nuclear sclerotic cataracts tend to form as a result of aging, and they are more common in people over the age of 60. They are characterized by a yellowing or browning of the lens, and they can cause vision to become cloudy or blurry.

Some other types of cataracts can occur at any age. They can be caused by various factors, including genetics, exposure to UV radiation, and certain medical conditions such as diabetes. They are characterized by a clouding of the lens and can also cause vision to become blurry or distorted.

Nuclear sclerotic cataracts have a higher rate of progression than other types of cataracts, which means you’re more likely to need treatment sooner if you develop them.

All types of cataracts can be treated with surgery. This can help to improve vision and restore clarity to the eye. Your vision will usually be restored to the level it was at before the cataract’s formation.

Nuclear Sclerotic Cataracts FAQs

Is it possible to restore vision after nuclear sclerotic cataracts? 

Yes, it is possible to restore vision after nuclear sclerotic cataracts with cataract surgery. Most people experience significant improvement in their vision after surgery. Since the surgery removes the cataract and replaces the natural lens of the eye with an artificial lens, it returns vision to where it was prior to the cataract.

What are nuclear sclerotic cataracts?

Nuclear sclerotic cataracts are the most common type of cataract. They develop once nuclear sclerosis worsens.

Is nuclear sclerosis the same as cataracts?

No, nuclear sclerosis is not the same as cataracts. Cataracts are a condition in which the lens of the eye becomes cloudy or opaque, leading to vision loss. Nuclear sclerosis, on the other hand, is an age-related change that occurs in the eye’s lens and does not typically cause significant vision loss. Severe nuclear sclerosis is generally called a nuclear cataract.

Can nuclear sclerosis be treated? 

In most cases, nuclear sclerosis does not require treatment. If it is causing vision problems, your eye doctor may recommend glasses or contact lenses to improve your vision. 

Once it progresses to a nuclear cataract, surgical treatment may be necessary to remove the hard, cloudy nucleus of the lens and replace it with an artificial lens. Some doctors will recommend just monitoring the condition of nuclear sclerosis until surgery may eventually be needed if a cataract forms and progresses.

Can nuclear sclerosis be prevented? 

There is no known way to prevent nuclear sclerosis. It is an age-related change that occurs in the lenses of the eyes and isn’t caused by any specific lifestyle factors. However, maintaining good overall eye health by getting regular eye exams and protecting your eyes from UV light and other harmful factors may help to reduce the risk of developing other vision problems as you age.

References

  1. Vision 2020: The Cataract Challenge. National Library of Medicine.

  2. At a Glance: Cataracts. (August 2022). National Eye Institute.

  3. Intraocular Lenses for Cataract Surgery. (August 2017). National Library of Medicine.

  4. New Research Sheds Light on How UV Rays May Contribute to Cataracts. (June 2014). National Eye Institute.

  5. Nutrition Guide for Clinicians: Cataract. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

  6. Progression of Nuclear Sclerosis Based on Changes in Refractive Values After Lens-Sparing Vitrectomy in Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy. (April 2014). Clinical Ophthalmology.

  7. Low-Grade Versus Medium-Grade Nuclear Sclerotic Cataract Density Produces Identical Surgical and Visual Outcomes: A Prospective Single-Surgeon Study. (December 2020). Cureus.

  8. Detecting Progression of Nuclear Sclerosis by Using Human Grading Versus Semiautomated Computer Grading. (April 2005). Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.

  9. Discrete Nuclear Sclerosis in Young Patients With Myopia. (November 2022). JAMA Ophthalmology.

  10. Healthy Diets and the Subsequent Prevalence of Nuclear Cataract in Women. (June 2010). JAMA Ophthalmology.

  11. Common Eye Disorders and Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  12. Risk Factors for Nuclear and Cortical Cataracts: A Hospital Based Study. (July–September 2015). Journal of Ophthalmic & Vision Research.

Last Updated January 21, 2023

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