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Cataract Stages Explained for Better Eye Health

stages of cataracts

Did you know that more than half of all Americans will have a cataract or have undergone cataract surgery by the age of 80? This startling fact underscores the importance of understanding cataract stages and their impact on vision.

Cataracts are not just a concern for the elderly; they can affect younger patients as well.

In this article, we will explore the stages of cataract development, the symptoms, and why recognizing these stages is crucial for maintaining eye health.

What Are Cataracts?

What are cataracts?

Cataracts refer to the clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. This cloudy lens can cause vision problems, including blurry vision, poor night vision, and even total blindness if left untreated.

The lens of the eye is responsible for focusing light onto the retina, allowing us to see both near and far objects clearly. When cataracts develop, this lens becomes slightly opaque, leading to vision loss.

Cataracts tend to develop slowly, often over many years. They can affect one or both eyes and are considered a leading cause of blindness worldwide.

Types of Cataracts

There are different types of cataracts. The most common include:

  • Nuclear sclerotic cataract (NS): Affects the center of the lens. These are the typical age related cataracts.
  • Cortical spoking cataract (CS): Characterized by white, wedge-like opacities that start at the edge of the lens and work their way to the center.
  • Posterior subcapsular cataract (PSC): Starts as a small, opaque area that usually forms near the back of the lens, right in the path of light.

Less common cataract types include:

  • Congenital Cataract: These cataracts are present at birth or form during a child’s first year. They may be genetic or associated with an intrauterine infection or trauma. They don’t always affect vision, but if they do, they may need to be surgically removed.
  • Traumatic Cataract: These cataracts form after an injury to the eye. The trauma may be a direct blow to the eye, a penetrating injury, or even a shock wave from an explosion. The cataract may appear immediately following the injury, or it may develop several months or even years later.

Understanding the early stages of cataracts and recognizing the symptoms can lead to more effective treatment and potentially preserve vision.

Importance of Recognizing Cataract Stages

Recognizing the stages of cataract progression is vital for several reasons:

  • Early Detection: Identifying cataracts in the early stage allows for timely intervention, faster recovery, and possibly reducing risk of complications.
  • Treatment Planning: Knowing the stage of a cataract helps eye doctors formulate a personalized treatment plan, including cataract removal if necessary.
  • Quality of Life: Vision loss due to cataracts can impact daily activities like reading, driving, and recognizing faces. Early detection and treatment can enhance the quality of life.
  • Prevention of Complications: If cataracts are left untreated, they can lead to other eye health issues, including glaucoma.

Regular eye exams are crucial for early detection, and consulting with an eye doctor can provide the best course of action for those developing cataracts.

The Stages of Cataract Development

Cataract development is a gradual process that can be categorized into four main stages of cataracts. Understanding these stages helps in early detection and effective treatment planning.

cataract stages
source: dragarwal.com
  1. Early Cataract (Immature Cataract):
    • Signs and Symptoms: None to slightly cloudy vision, difficulty with glare, especially at night.
    • Treatment: Anti-glare lenses, regular eye exams to monitor progression.
  2. Nuclear Cataract (Mature Cataract):
    • Signs and Symptoms: Yellowing or browning of the lens, multiple vision in one eye, poor near and far vision, glare and halos at night.
    • Treatment: Prescription glasses, or cataract surgery if vision loss impacts daily life.
  3. Hypermature Cataract:
    • Signs and Symptoms: More severe vision problems, including total blindness in some cases.
    • Treatment: Cataract removal is usually necessary at this stage.

Symptoms of Cataracts

Cataracts may present with symptoms such as:

  • Blurred or cloudy vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light and glare
  • Seeing “halos” around lights
  • Fading or yellowing of colors
  • Double vision in one eye
  • Continuously changing eye glasses prescription

These symptoms may not necessarily mean you have a cataract, but they warrant an eye exam to rule out other eye health issues.

Progression Rate of Cataracts

Cataracts develop slowly, often over many years. The progression rate can vary depending on factors such as:

  • Age: Age-related cataracts usually progress more quickly in older adults.
  • Medical Conditions: Diabetes and other health conditions can accelerate cataract development.
  • Excessive Exposure: Prolonged exposure to UV rays can hasten cataract progression.
  • Lifestyle Choices: Smoking and poor diet may also impact vision and speed up cataract advancement.
  • Medication: Steroids like prednisone can accelerate the progression of cataract.

Stage 3 Cataracts: A Closer Look

Stage 3, or hypermature cataracts, is a critical phase where the lens becomes completely opaque, leading to significant vision loss or even total blindness. This stage requires immediate attention, and cataract surgery is often the only effective treatment. The natural lens is replaced with an intraocular lens, restoring clear vision.

Treatment Options for Different Stages

Cataract treatment varies depending on the stage and the individual’s specific needs. Here’s a brief overview:

  • Early Stages: Prescription glasses, anti-glare lenses, or contact lenses may suffice.
  • Mature Cataract: Cataract surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial intraocular lens.
  • Hypermature Cataract: Immediate surgical intervention is often required. Surgery usually involves longer healing times and higher risk. A second surgery may be necessary to restore vision.
  • Congenital Cataracts: Monitoring or surgery in younger patients if it affects vision development.

Prevention and Care

While cataracts tend to be age-related, certain measures can slow their progression:

  • Wear sunglasses to protect against excessive exposure to UV rays.
  • Maintain a healthy diet rich in antioxidants.
  • Control medical conditions like diabetes that can impact vision.
  • Avoid smoking, which can accelerate cataracts progress.


  • At what stage should cataracts be removed?

    Cataracts should be removed when they begin to impact daily activities, such as reading, driving, occupation, or hobbies. The stage at which this occurs can vary among individuals. An eye doctor will evaluate the cataract’s progression and your specific needs to determine the right time for cataract removal.

  • How do you know what stage of cataracts you have?

    Determining the stage of cataracts requires a comprehensive eye examination by an eye care professional. They will assess the cloudiness, location, and impact on vision to classify the stage of the cataract. This may include a slit-lamp examination, visual acuity test, and other diagnostic procedures, including a dilated eye exam.

  • How quickly do cataracts worsen?

    Cataracts typically develop slowly over many years. However, the rate of progression can vary widely among individuals and may be influenced by factors such as age, underlying health conditions, and lifestyle choices. Regular eye exams can help monitor the progression of cataracts.

  • Can you wait too long to have cataracts removed?

    While cataracts can be left untreated for some time, waiting too long may make the surgery more complicated. Severely advanced cataracts may lead to other eye problems and further loss of vision. It’s essential to consult with an eye care professional to determine the appropriate timing for cataract surgery.

  • Is it better to have cataract surgery early or later?

    The decision to have cataract surgery early or later depends on how the cataract is affecting your quality of life and vision. If cataracts are not yet causing significant vision problems, waiting may be an option. However, if cataracts are hindering daily activities, early intervention may be beneficial. An eye doctor will provide personalized recommendations based on your specific situation.


Cataracts are a leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than half of all people by the age of 80. Understanding cataract stages, from the early cataract to the late stage, is vital for timely intervention and effective treatment. Whether it’s wearing corrective lenses or undergoing cataract removal, knowing the stages of cataracts can guide the treatment plan.

Regular eye exams, lifestyle choices, and consultation with an eye doctor are key to maintaining eye health and clear vision. If you have concerns about cataracts or other vision problems, don’t hesitate to seek professional medical assistance.