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Types of Cataracts: Nuclear, Cortical & Others

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Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world and vision loss in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 20 million Americans 40 and older have at least one cataract.

Different types of cataracts can develop and progress at variable rates. The type, formation, progression, and severity of the cataract can impact treatment methods.

The National Eye Institute (NEI) recognizes five main types of cataracts. Understanding what they are can help you know what to do next.

Types of Cataracts

Quick Facts About Different Types of Cataracts

How Many Types of Cataracts Are There?

woman with cataract

While most cataracts are age-related, the NEI recognizes five different types. All can impair your vision, but how they’re treated and how they develop are slightly different. 

Common types of cataracts include the following:

  • Age-related cataracts: These cataracts cause clouding and blurry vision, and they’re common in people 75 and older. 
  • Traumatic cataracts: A serious injury can damage your lens, and a cataract could form as your eye heals. 
  • Radiation cataracts: Therapy involving ultraviolet (UV) rays, along with too much sun exposure, can cause cataract formation. 
  • Pediatric cataracts: Congenital defects can cause cataracts in newborns. Sometimes, these vision problems appear later. 
  • Secondary cataracts: Some people develop scar tissue after cataract surgery. Cells can clump together, forming a secondary cataract, or a return of cataract symptoms.
man with cataracts pinching nose
As cataracts progress, treatment will include cataract surgery. Untreated cataracts of any type can lead to vision loss and blindness.

Cataracts can also form in different parts of the eye. These cataract forms include the following:

  • Cortical: A cortical cataract begins on the outside edge of the lens (the peripheral) with white streaks or wedge-shaped opacities, commonly called cortical spokes, that progress inward on the lens, blocking and impairing vision.
  • Nuclear: A nuclear cataract is most often associated with aging and forms in the center of the lens (the nucleus). A nuclear cataract progresses slowly. Over time, it can lead to the lens turning completely brown or yellowish, tinting vision and making it difficult to read and tell the difference between colors.
  • Posterior: A posterior subcapsular cataract forms in the back of the lens, often directly in the path that light needs to pass through for sight.

All cataracts can cause cloudy and blurred vision, double vision, impaired night vision, sensitivity to light, halos around lights, difficulties telling colors apart, tinting or yellowing of the lens that can make it hard to read, and muted vision of colors. Age-related cataracts tend to progress slower than those that develop at a younger age due to illness, genetics, or injury.

Types of Cataracts Frequently Asked Questions

How do you identify different types of cataracts?

Doctors use visual exams to spot cataracts. Your symptoms matter too. If you notice changes in your vision, talk to your doctor and ask for help.

Nuclear and cortical cataracts are often easy to recognize, as symptoms begin early and grow more severe with time. A posterior subcapsular cataract may have limited symptoms until it is more mature.

What is a fast-growing cataract?

Cataracts that form earlier in life can progress more quickly than age-related ones.

Are there rare types of cataracts?

Age-related cataracts are the most common versions. Cataracts caused by genetics or cancer treatments occur less frequently.


  1. Common Eye Disorders and Diseases. (December 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Types of Cataract. (January 2023). National Eye Institute.
  3. Eye Health Statistics. American Academy of Ophthalmology.
  4. Overview: Cataract Surgery. (February 2021). National Health Service.
  5. Types of Cataracts and How to Identify Them. (May 2022). Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

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