What is a Nuclear Cataract?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 21 January 2020
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A nuclear cataract is an eye condition characterized by a centralized clouding of the lens that interferes with one’s vision. Risk factors for this form of cataract development include advanced age, certain existing medical conditions and lifestyle factors. Treatment for a nuclear cataract generally involves surgery to replace the affected lens. As with any invasive medical procedure, cataract surgery does carry some risk for complication, including excessive bleeding and infection.

Cataracts generally form due to a genetic predisposition or in the wake of either injury or lens deterioration induced by advanced age. Forming either uni- or bilaterally, meaning in one or both eyes, a nuclear cataract forms when the center of the eye's lens thickens and loses its flexibility. Unable to focus light as it should, the affected lens’ tissue deteriorates, forming a cataract. Though the cataract itself is not necessarily a threat to one’s sense of sight, it can impair one’s ability to see properly.


Pronounced vision changes that occur with nuclear cataract development will generally prompt a visit to the ophthalmologist. A diagnosis of a nuclear cataract will generally be made following the administration of a vision acuity test and other diagnostic exams. The vision acuity test involves reading lines from a chart composed of letters arranged in varying font sizes, generally from the largest at the top of the chart to the smallest at the bottom. Diagnostic exams may involve the use of retinal and slit-lamp tests to evaluate the condition of the inner eye, including the lens, retina and cornea.

Individuals who develop a nuclear cataract will generally notice subtle vision changes over time. Cataract formation will usually induce nearsightedness that worsens and causes the lens to adopt a yellowish hue. As one’s vision becomes more impaired, he or she may notice a persistent haze or experience double vision. Progressive lens discoloration generally occurs as the cataract worsens, which can further impair one’s vision. Individuals with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, or those who are obese or smoke are considered to possess an increased chance for developing cataracts.

Treatment for a nuclear cataract involves the surgical excision of the affected lens and implantation of a replacement lens. Performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia, cataract surgery is generally reserved for individuals whose vision has become significantly impaired. Those who undergo surgery may usually resume everyday activities without restriction within a few days.

If existing eye or health issues prevent the implantation of a replacement lens, proper vision may be achieved with the use of contacts or glasses. Individuals may opt out of surgery if their condition has not significantly impaired their everyday activities. Those diagnosed with a nuclear cataract who do not pursue surgery are usually advised to have annual check-ups with their ophthalmologist to track any changes in vision or cataract advancement.


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