Types of Cataracts

You usually get cataracts when you're older, but not always. They can show up at birth, after an injury, or because you have another health problem. There are many different types, but they all have one thing in common: a cloudy lens -- the part of your eye that helps you focus light.

As a cataract starts growing, it gets harder and harder to see clearly. Your doctor will talk with you about the type you have, and help you figure out your treatment options.

Nuclear Cataracts

Also called a nuclear sclerotic cataract, this is the kind doctors see most. Anyone who lives long enough usually ends up with one.

They form in the center of the lens, known as the nucleus. As they get worse, your reading vision may actually get better at first. It's called second sight, but it's short lived.


In time, the lens hardens and turns yellow or even brown. You have a hard time seeing small details, colors get less rich, and you see halos around bright objects at night.

Cortical Cataracts

These take shape on the outside edge of your lens, called the cortex. They start as white wedges, like triangles that point toward the center of your eye. As they grow, they scatter light.

If you have these cataracts, the main symptom is glare. You may find it hard to drive at night. They can also make your vision hazy, like you're looking through a fog. You may find it hard to tell similar colors apart or to judge how far away an object is.

Since they can spell trouble for both near and distance vision, you typically get them removed early on.

Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts

These cataracts form just inside the back of your lens capsule -- the part of your eye that surrounds the lens and holds it in place. They're directly in the path of light as it passes through the lens.

They're quicker to come on than other cataracts, and you may get symptoms within months. They affect your close-up vision and make it harder to see in bright lighting.

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Anterior Subcapsular Cataracts

This type forms just inside the front of your lens capsule. An injury or swelling in your eye can lead to one. So can a type of eczema called atopic dermatitis.

Congenital Cataracts

These are cataracts you're born with or that form when you're a child. Some are linked to your genes, and others are due to an illness, like rubella, that your mother had during pregnancy.


When they're small or outside the center of the lens, they may not need treatment. But when a baby's born with one that blocks vision, a doctor needs to remove it because it can stop the eye from learning to see.

Traumatic Cataracts

Many kinds of injuries can lead to a cataract. You can get one if you're hit in the eye by a ball or get hurt from a burn, chemical, or splinter.

The cataract could come on soon after the injury or not show up until years later.

Secondary Cataracts

When another condition or a medical treatment leads to a cataract, doctors call it secondary. Diabetes, taking steroids like prednisone, and even cataract surgery are possible causes.

When you get one after cataract surgery, it's called a posterior capsule opacification (PCO). Your doctor can treat it with a quick procedure called YAG laser capsulotomy.

Radiation Cataracts

You may know it's important to protect your skin from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation, but it can take a toll on your eyes, too. You can sometimes get cataracts if you spend too much time in the sun without eye protection.

People who work outdoors, like fishermen and farmers, are more likely to get this kind of cataract. To prevent it, wear sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection.

Cataracts are also a possible side effect from radiation therapy for cancer.

Lamellar or Zonular Cataracts

This type typically shows up in younger children and in both eyes. The genes that cause them are passed from parent to child.

These cataracts form fine white dots in the middle of the lens and may take on a Y shape. Over time, the whole center of the lens may turn white.

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Posterior Polar Cataracts

You get these on the back center of your lens, and they're often due to genes that are passed down through your family.

Posterior polar cataracts often don't cause symptoms, which is a big plus since they're hard to remove.

Anterior Polar Cataracts

They form on the front and center of your lens, and look like small white dots.

The good news is that these cataracts typically don't bother your vision.

Post-Vitrectomy Cataracts

Vitrectomy is surgery to remove your vitreous, the clear gel at the center of your eye. The operation can help with certain eye problems but may lead to a cataract.

Cataract surgery can treat it and improve your vision.

Christmas Tree Cataracts

Also called polychromatic cataracts, they form shiny, colored crystals in your lens.

They're most common in people who have a condition called myotonic dystrophy.

Brunescent Cataracts

If you don't treat a nuclear cataract, it turns very hard and brown. When that happens, it's called brunescent.

This kind of cataract makes it hard for you to tell colors apart, especially blues and purples. Surgery to remove it is harder, longer, and riskier than when treated earlier on.

Diabetic Snowflake Cataracts

This is a rare type of cataract that can happen if you have diabetes. It gets worse quickly and forms a gray-white pattern that looks like a snowflake.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on April 19, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Weill Cornell Medical College: "Cataract."

Cleveland Clinic: "Cataract Symptoms Can Signal Other Diseases That Need Treatment Now."

Mayo Clinic: "Cataracts," "Cataract Surgery."

Vision Aware: "Are There Different Types of Cataracts?"

American Academy of Ophthalmology, EyeWiki: "Cataract."

American Academy of Ophthalmology: "When Cancer Treatment Caused Cataracts, Surgery Helped Her See Again," "Anterior Polar Cataract," "Snowflake Cataracts."

Canadian National Institute for the Blind: "Cataracts 101: Types and Causes."

Webvision: The Organization of the Retina and Visual System: "Crystalline Lens and Cataract."

University of Iowa Health Care, EyeRounds.org: "Anterior Subcapsular Cataract," "Brunescent cataract, mature."

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The University of Arizona Health Sciences: "Cataracts, Lamellar."

NIH, U.S. National Library of Public Medicine: "Surgery for post-vitrectomy cataract."

European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons: "Strategies for getting to grips with brunescent cataracts."

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