13th October 2022
7 minute read
Categorised under:
Eye Health

What are the 3 types of cataracts?

Cataracts are a highly common condition and occur naturally. In spite of this, you might not know exactly what they are and how they affect the eye.

Read on if you want to know:

  • What are cataracts and why do they appear?
  • What are the symptoms of cataracts?
  • What are the 3 types of cataracts?
  • How to prevent cataracts and what to do if you have them.

What are cataracts and why do they appear?

As already mentioned, cataracts are a very common, naturally occurring condition.

A cataract is the build-up of proteins in the lens within the eye. The build-up of the proteins leads to a gradual degeneration of the focal lens. Instead of allowing light to enter properly, the cloudy lens creates a foggy appearance to everything, so that the patient’s view is obstructed by haziness and blurriness. The process of cataract development is generally prolonged and almost imperceptible until daily tasks become increasingly difficult.

Cataracts usually affect people as they age, although they can also be brought on by eye injuries, eye surgeries, and medical conditions such as diabetes. The use of steroids can also hasten the progression of cataracts.

It is very rare for young people to have cataracts, although there are some uncommon cases of children having them or being born with congenital cataracts.

The good news is that cataracts can be safely, quickly, easily and effectively treated thanks to modern medical surgery.

But what are the 3 types of cataracts and how can they be spotted? There are some key symptoms to look out for.

Symptoms of cataracts

Most people don’t notice the build-up of protein in the lens that causes cataracts, but notice that their vision is beginning to deteriorate. A routine check-up at the optician is the best way to detect cataracts.

Symptoms of cataracts vary, depending on your type of cataracts.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Seeing ‘halos’ around objects
  • Changes in night vision and altered depth perception
  • Sensitivity to sunlight or photophobia
  • Difficulty distinguishing colours or dullness of colours
  • Difficulty reading
  • Glare and starbursts with night driving
  • A yellowish/brownish ‘sepia’ effect in your vision

What are the 3 types of cataracts?

Although there are various kinds of cataracts, there are 3 main types. They can be brought on by normal ageing, trauma caused by accidents or surgery, or congenital conditions.  You can either develop one type of cataract or a combination of the 3 main types, in either one eye or both.

So, what are the 3 types of cataracts?

1. Nuclear Sclerotic Cataract

This type of cataract is the most common.

It manifests as a gradual hardening and yellowing of the lens – or the nucleus – of the eye before gradually expanding to the outer layer of the lens. The hardening of the lens is known as ‘sclerosis’.

It changes the eye’s ability to focus, which may lead to temporary improvements to vision for close-up activities such as reading, in a phenomenon known as ‘second sight’. However, the vision improvement is not permanent, and your overall sight will begin to deteriorate.

The development of a Nuclear Sclerotic Cataract is so gradual that it may take years to affect the vision. When it reaches the advanced stages, the patient will most likely have trouble distinguishing between colours.

2. Cortical Cataract

Unlike Nuclear Sclerotic Cataracts, a Cortical Cataract begins its progress from the outside and works its way in. The cataract occurs around the edges (the cortex) of the lens, before extending spoke-like fissures that move to the centre of the lens. These fissures cause the light that enters the eye to scatter, creating problems with blurred vision, glare, contrast, and depth perception.

This type of cataracts most commonly develops in people with diabetes.

It’s easier to spot this type of cataract in the early stages, as small, clouded areas or white streaks begin to form within the lens cortex.

Prescription eyeglasses may alleviate the condition in the short term, but surgery will eventually be needed to correct this condition.

3. Posterior Subcapsular Cataract

This third type of cataract begins as a small opaque or cloudy area at the back of the lens, below the lens capsule – a membrane that holds the lens in place – hence the name ‘Subcapsular’.

This type of cataract is harder to notice until the later stages of its progress. It interferes with reading, night vision, and even creates ‘halo’ effects and glares around lights.

Those who are most prone to develop Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts are diabetics, steroid users, those with extreme myopia, and/or retinitis pigmentosa. It is also commonly found in patients who have had eye trauma or surgery.

The symptoms develop rapidly and can become noticeable within months.

How to Prevent Cataracts

It is generally accepted that cataracts are a normal part of the ageing process.

However, there are some things that you can do to reduce the risk of developing cataracts.

For example, you can avoid:

  • Exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation from the sun – wear sunglasses
  • Developing Diabetes by having a healthy, balanced diet
  • Stress
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

There are also some risks associated with medication use, so make sure you talk to a medical expert about your options.

It’s recommended that you consume a healthy diet high in antioxidants, rich in vitamin C and vitamin E.

There are, however, some unavoidable factors in the development of cataracts that are out of your hands, such as family history, eye injuries and surgeries, and acute myopia.

What to do if you have cataracts?

If you think you may have cataracts and you’re experiencing any of the symptoms described above, your first port of call should be your optician.

It may be that you simply need a stronger prescription for your glasses or visual aids. If you do indeed have cataracts, then your eye doctor can help you to track the progression of the condition and advise you as to when to seek surgery.

Cataracts don’t get better on their own, and surgery is the only way to treat them.

Should you get cataract surgery? 

Thanks to advances in modern medicine, getting cataract surgery is a simple process and doesn’t even require an overnight stay in the hospital.

It’s essential that you talk to your optician about when to get surgery, as you want to avoid any unnecessary complications or multiple surgeries caused by delaying for too long.

If left untreated, cataracts will severely affect your vision. In fact, cataracts are the number one cause of blindness in the world. Blindness from cataracts in the UK is extremely rare, as treatment is available in all regions.

You may even find that you no longer need to use your spectacles for distance vision after surgery and just require reading specs, depending on the lens options that you chose for your surgery. You will be given the opportunity to discuss this at the eye hospital when you go for your pre-operative assessment.

Cataract removal is a quick and easy outpatient microsurgery, usually taking around 10 minutes per eye to complete. You will be given a local anaesthetic, by drops, there are no needles, and won’t feel anything – no stitches are involved. The natural lens will be replaced with an artificial intraocular lens, and vision will begin to improve within a few days.

Cataract surgery patients would recommend having the surgery and it’s definitely worth it to get back to good vision, free from cloudiness and impediments.

So now you’ve read the answers about the 3 types of cataracts, what are the symptoms, how to prevent them, and when to get surgery. Hopefully, you have found some of the answers you needed. If you are still in any doubt or would like some professional advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here at SpaMedica today.

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