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Types of Cataracts: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

A cataract refers to a cloudy area on the lens of the eye. Most commonly, cataracts are age-related and occur as part of the natural aging process. 

older man with cataracts

There are many different types of cataracts. These are some of the most common:

  • Age-related cataracts
  • Traumatic cataracts
  • Radiation cataracts
  • Pediatric cataracts
  • Secondary cataracts

Changes in the lens of the eye affect vision and can be treated with surgery. For each type of cataract, surgery is the recommended treatment.

Age-Related Cataracts

This is the most common form of cataract, and it occurs due to aging. 

As people age, the lenses in the eyes can become thicker, less flexible, and less transparent. Cloudy patches form on the lens, creating blurriness. As the cataract develops, the clouding can increase and vision gets increasingly unclear.

Cataracts can develop in one or both eyes, but they may form at different rates. This can cause a difference in vision between the right and left eyes.

Age-related cataracts may be more common among people who smoke, drink a lot of alcohol, or have diabetes. People who have had eye surgeries, such as glaucoma surgery, may be more likely to develop cataracts.

Additionally, genetics play a factor, as a family history of cataracts increases the likelihood that you’ll also get them. Using steroids over a long period can contribute to cataract formation as well.

Age-related cataracts are treated with surgery, which is widely considered by medical experts to be safe and effective. This painless surgery gives clear eyesight back to 90 percent of patients who undergo it.

Traumatic Cataracts

Traumatic cataracts can occur when the lens fiber is disrupted due to a blunt or penetrating trauma. Symptoms may include discomfort, pain, redness, corneal infection, and blurry vision.

Ultimately, serious eye injuries can damage the lens of the eye. This may cause a cataract to form immediately or possibly years after the injury. 

Trauma to the eye is something that up to a fifth of adults experience in their lives. It is more common in men and young people. 

The recommended treatment for traumatic cataracts is surgery, and this should be done promptly. In some cases, particularly in children, minor traumatic cataracts may resolve on their own. 

Radiation Cataracts

Radiation can cause cataracts. This can come in various forms.

Exposure to ultraviolet rays (UV) rays from the sun can contribute to cataract formation. And cancer treatment often includes radiation, which can lead to cataracts.

Symptoms include partial cloudiness or opacity in vision, which can result from damaged cells covering the lens. These symptoms may appear one or two years after high-dose exposure to radiation. In some cases, radiation cataracts may appear many years after radiation exposure at lower doses.

Recent studies show that cumulative occupational radiation exposure has been linked with an increased risk of cataracts. Radiologic technicians can be at increased risk of developing cataracts due to low-dose exposure.

Modern cataract surgery is considered a safe procedure for radiation-induced cataracts. Your eye doctor will likely monitor your cataract until it reaches a point where it should be removed.

Pediatric Cataracts

Children can have cataracts, either from birth or they may develop them later in childhood. While pediatric cataracts are rare, they are often genetic and seen in families. 

Some cataracts develop as a result of a pregnancy complication or childhood illness. Children can also develop cataracts from similar causes as adults, such as radiation, a steroid medication, or eye injuries.

Symptoms include blurry or clouded vision, uncontrolled eye movements, and the eyes being in the wrong position. Symptoms vary somewhat for each child, but it’s common for lights to appear too bright or glaring. Children may see a halo or circle of light around objects. 

Ophthalmologists will diagnose a child’s cataract and advise treatment options. When cataracts are tiny, the doctor will monitor the impact on vision. In some cases, they resolve on their own. 

If cataracts are large and cause vision problems, immediate treatment is advised. Treating cataracts can help prevent additional vision problems in children, such as lazy eye, also known as amblyopia

Check with your child’s doctor or ophthalmologist to monitor eye changes and discuss the best options, which may include surgery.

Secondary Cataracts

Some people experience cloudiness of vision after cataract surgery. This condition is called a secondary cataract or posterior capsule opacification

A secondary cataract is not technically a cataract, as the cloudiness is caused on the outside of the lens. Vision problems are very similar to those associated with a cataract, however.

Experts at the National Eye Institute reports that up to 50 percent of people who have surgery will develop a secondary cataract. 

The treatment for this condition is YAG laser capsulotomy. Treatment takes just a few minutes. The painless procedure uses a laser to open the membrane behind the artificial lens in the eye. Recovery is fast, and most people find their vision is back to normal within a few days.

When to Talk to a Doctor

If you are noticing any changes in your vision, talk with your doctor. Oftentimes, an optometrist or ophthalmologist will make you aware of a developing cataract during a routine eye exam. They may recommend simply monitoring its progression until it reaches the point where surgery is required.

Cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed surgeries, with a high success rate of approximately 99 percent. The surgery can help you enjoy clear vision for years to come.

Types of Cataracts FAQs

What are the most common types of cataracts?

The primary types of cataracts are age-related cataracts, traumatic cataracts, radiation cataracts, pediatric cataracts, and secondary cataracts.

Which type of cataract is most common?

Age-related cataracts are the most common type. By the age of 80, more than half of all Americans have had a cataract or cataract surgery. 

What happens to eyesight when a cataract develops?

Vision changes and eyesight become cloudy, blurred, or dim. Colors may seem faded, and objects may appear increasingly unclear. Additional vision changes can include visual distortion or seeing double images. Cataracts can also make things seem yellow or dull. 

Can vision loss be helped with something other than surgery?

In the early stages, vision loss may be helped by physical adjustments. To manage early-stage vision loss, consider these steps:

  • Use different eyeglasses. 
  • Use brighter light bulbs for more light.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare.
  • Use a magnifying glass for small print.

Talk to your ophthalmologist about the best nonsurgical options for vision loss in the early stages of cataract development.

When is it time to see a doctor?

If you notice any vision changes, make an appointment with your eye doctor. See a doctor immediately if you experience any sudden changes in vision, such as double vision, headaches, light flashes, or sudden eye pain, as this could indicate a more serious issue.

If you have a cataract, see your eye doctor on a regular schedule to monitor its progression.

When is surgery necessary?

Cataract surgery is recommended if loss of eyesight is interfering with daily activities. This may include ease of reading, watching TV, using the computer, checking your phone, filling out forms, or driving. Talk with your ophthalmologist to discuss recommendations that can improve your quality of life until the point where you have surgery.

Who is most at risk for cataracts?

Age is the greatest risk factor, as cataracts can develop starting between 40 and 50 years of age. People who live at high altitudes and those who spend more time in the sun are also more at risk.

Is there a nonsurgical method to remove a cataract?

Medical experts at the American Academy of Ophthalmology confirm that surgery is the only way to remove a cataract

Is there a way to prevent cataracts?

While some approaches promote overall eye health and help to identify cataracts early in their development, no studies have proven that cataracts can be entirely prevented.

The top recommendations are to get regular eye exams, stop smoking, and reduce excessive alcohol use. 

Further recommendations aim to promote a healthy lifestyle and support overall well-being. Wear sunglasses to block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays and protect your eyes. Follow recommended treatment plans for medical conditions like diabetes to manage overall risks for cataracts. 

Healthy nutrition supports eye health, immunity, and wellness. A healthy diet with a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk for cataract development.

References

  1. Cataract Surgery: Risks, Recovery, Costs. (September 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

  2. Types of Cataracts. (August 2019). National Eye Institute (NEI).

  3. Cataracts: What They Are, Causes, Symptoms, Surgery, Recovery. (April 2020). Cleveland Clinic.

  4. Cataracts. John Hopkins Medicine.

  5. Management of Traumatic Cataract. American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

  6. Occupational Exposure to Low-dose Ionizing Radiation Increases Risk of Cataract. (October 2018). National Cancer Institute, Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics (DCEG).

  7. Radiation Cataract (Lens Opacity). Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF).

  8. Cataracts in Children. Stanford Children’s Hospital.

  9. Cataract Surgery Infographic. (June 2014). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

  10. Cataract Surgery: What You Should Know. UCI Health.

Last Updated April 6, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.