A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of your eye. Most cataracts are age-related — they happen because of normal changes in your eyes as you get older. But you can get cataracts for other reasons, too.
No matter what type of cataract you have, the treatment is always surgery.
There are 5 main types of cataracts.
As you age, a cataract can develop because of natural changes in the lens of your eye. This is called an age-related cataract, and it’s the most common type of cataract. Age-related cataracts may be more likely to form if you:
- Drink too much alcohol
- Have a family history of cataract
- Have diabetes
- Have had certain eye surgeries, like glaucoma surgery
- Take steroids (medicines used to treat a variety of health problems, like arthritis or allergies) for a long time
Serious eye injuries can damage your lens and cause a cataract. The cataract could form quickly after the injury — or it could form many years later.
Certain types of radiation can cause cataracts. This includes ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and radiation treatment for cancer.
Children can get cataracts, too. They can be born with cataracts (congenital cataracts), or develop them later on.
Cataracts in children are rare, and they’re usually genetic — they run in families. They can also happen because of serious complications during pregnancy or because of illnesses during childhood, like uveitis or tumors in the eye. Children can also get cataracts for the same reasons as adults — eye injuries, radiation, or steroid medications.
When pediatric cataracts are large enough to cause vision problems, they need immediate treatment. It’s important to treat these cataracts early on so your child doesn’t develop other vision problems, like amblyopia (lazy eye).
Other pediatric cataracts are so small that they won’t hurt your child’s vision. Your child’s doctor can monitor these smaller cataracts to make sure they don’t cause vision problems.
Secondary cataract (posterior capsule opacification)
After cataract surgery, some people may develop a condition called secondary cataract that makes their vision cloudy again. This condition is also called after-cataract or posterior capsule opacification. Secondary cataract is common, but it’s easy to fix with a laser treatment in your eye doctor’s office.
During cataract surgery, your doctor removes the lens from your eye and replaces it with a clear artificial lens. But over time, the thin membrane that holds your new lens in place can grow scar tissue and make your vision cloudy again.
Secondary cataracts aren’t actually cataracts, because they’re caused by cloudiness on the outside of your lens, not the inside — but the vision problems they cause are very similar. Up to half of all people who have had cataract surgery will develop a secondary cataract.
Treatment for secondary cataract is quick and painless. Your doctor will use a laser to make an opening in the membrane behind the artificial lens in your eye — this is called YAG laser capsulotomy. Most people will notice their vision is back to normal a few days after the procedure.