Fast-developing cataracts include:
- Nuclear cataracts.
- Cortical cataracts.
- Posterior subcapsular cataracts.
- Congenital cataracts.
There are several causes of cataracts, although in the United States, age is the leading factor. Most people who develop cataracts receive their diagnosis after age 40; they will not need treatment beyond regular eye exams and some lifestyle changes until they are at least 60 years old.
Fast-developing cataracts progress more rapidly, requiring treatment within a few years of the initial diagnosis, rather than decades. These cataracts are more likely to occur in younger adults, and they are more likely to be caused by trauma, illness, or radiation exposure than just age.
Fast-developing cataracts are usually treated with surgery. Cataract surgery has a great track record of success, improving vision and preventing blindness. You may end up getting surgery sooner with rapidly developing cataracts compared to other types.
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What Causes Cataracts?
Cataracts are a condition affecting the lens of the eye due to several factors, including age and trauma. Generally, this condition clouds the lens of the eye, leading to white, yellow, or even brown pigment of the lens. This leads to blurry, fuzzy, grainy, or yellowed vision, or spots in the eye, making it hard to see some areas in the field of vision.
Most people believe that cataracts are a slow-moving, progressive disease. In many instances, this is true. Especially among people who develop cataracts from aging, symptoms will not begin to limit lifestyle or safety until age 60 or older.
However, anything that damages the proteins in the lens, leading to changes, can cause cataracts. Sometimes this takes decades, but in some cases, progression can be rapid. Other causes of cataracts include:
- Trauma to the eye or head.
- Corticosteroid medications.
- Radiation exposure or treatments.
- Some genetic conditions.
- Consistent, long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light.
- Smoking cigarettes, drinking too much alcohol, and some other forms of substance abuse.
The different types of cataracts vary according to where on the lens the condition begins to form.
- Nuclear cataracts begin in the center of the lens and spread out.
- Cortical cataracts begin at the edges of the lens and move inward.
- Posterior subcapsular cataracts (PSC) develop on the bottom of the lens.
- Congenital cataracts are formed in utero.
Of these, PSCs develop fastest. With any cataract diagnosis, it is important to make lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and wearing sunglasses to protect against UV radiation, and it is important to vision your eye doctor regularly to monitor the progression of the cataract. However, PSCs require more aggressive approaches, and they may lead to surgery faster than other types of cataracts.
How Will Your Eye Doctor Determine Your Cataracts Are Fast-Developing?
The only way to determine if any kind of cataract is fast-moving is with regular eye exams. Your eye doctor will use some diagnostic tests to determine if your vision problems are caused by a cataract.
Visual acuity test
This is the classic eye chart with a series of letters in different sizes to measure how well you can see. Starting here, your eye doctor will be able to compare your current eye chart results with previous tests and understand how your vision has been impacted. They can then determine what other tests to run, to understand if this problem is progressing rapidly or slowly.
Dilated eye exam
Your eye doctor will use special eye drops to dilate your pupils, allowing them to see into the back of your eye, including the organs and vasculature in the eye. The doctor will examine your retina and optic nerve for damage to rule out severe trauma that may cause vision changes. While your eyes are dilated, they may be able to see whitening, spotted, streaked, or yellowing areas in your lens, which they can diagnose as potential cataract.
This test may involve numbing drops placed into the eye; then, an instrument is applied directly to the eye itself to measure internal pressure. High pressure is a glaucoma risk, or it may be related to other problems like a recent accident. This test can help your eye doctor know whether your vision changes are related to another condition besides cataracts.
Once you receive an accurate diagnosis and you learn that you do have cataracts, your ophthalmologist will determine what type of cataracts are affecting your vision based on their shape and location in your lens. This may also be based on your age, if you have had an accident or illness that impacts your vision, and how rapidly your vision changes.
If your cataracts advance rapidly — particularly a risk in cataracts that form in people under the age of 40 — then your doctor may monitor them for a little while, but they are more likely to recommend surgery sooner. All cataracts, whether they advance slowly or quickly, will result in surgery at some point because the lens will be too cloudy or yellowed for vision to function normally. However, in people under the age of 40, and who have the above listed types of cataracts, surgery may be the preferred treatment compared to monitoring the progress of the cataracts for years.
Fast-Developing Cataracts FAQ
Are fast-developing cataracts more dangerous?
Since these types of cataracts worsen more quickly, you will usually experience a sharper decline in vision and associated problems. It generally means you can’t push off treatment if you want to maintain your quality of life.
How quickly will fast-developing cataracts develop?
There isn’t a set timeline for everyone, but fast-developing cataracts can worsen in a matter of months versus the several years it usually takes for standard cataracts.
How will I know if a cataract is developing faster?
The most obvious signs are generally a decline in vision and associated falls or other accidents. See an eye doctor regularly to be assessed.
Is cataract surgery easier when you are younger?
Like any surgery, cataract surgery can have better outcomes and recovery times when you are younger. If you have a fast-developing cataract, doctors generally recommend you get surgery sooner rather than taking a watch-and-wait approach.
Cataracts: Overview. (June 23, 2018). Mayo Clinic.
What Are Cataracts? Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Cataract. (June 17, 2018). EyeWiki, American Association of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Management of Traumatic Cataract. (August 2016). American Association of Ophthalmology (AAO).