What is a Subcapsular Cataract?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 June 2019
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A subcapsular cataract is a condition of the eye defined by the presence of lens opacity that adversely impairs one’s vision. Occurring in either the front or rear portion of the lens, a subcapsular cataract generally impacts one’s reading vision. As with other forms of cataract development, treatment for a subcapsular cataract generally involves the surgical removal of the affected lens and the implantation of a replacement.

When working normally, the lens of one’s eye serves as a transmitter station for light that enters the eye. Passing through the lens, the incoming light is used to produce crisp, clear images. With time, the lens can lose its flexibility and thicken. As the lens thickens, and the cataract develops, the amount of light that passes through the lens becomes restricted, causing the received light to scatter and form a distorted or blurred image. Subcapsular cataracts may initially form as a speck that gradually blocks more and more of the incoming light from reaching the retina intact.

Individuals will generally visit an ophthalmologist when their impaired vision becomes more pronounced. Initially, a visual acuity test is generally administered, requiring the individual to read lines of numbers and letters from a chart, which are arranged in varying sizes in ascending or descending order. Examinations using dilation, light, and magnification may also be utilized to evaluate the condition of the retina, cornea, and other inner workings of the individual’s eye, as well as to check for any abnormalities.


Risk factors for subcapsular cataract development are many and varied. As with the risk for any type of cataract development, behavioral, physiological, and lifestyle issues may contribute to the onset of lens opacity. Aside from advanced age, individuals who spend excessive amounts of time in the sun, those with a history of radiation exposure, and individuals who smoke or drink excessively are thought to possess an increased risk for subcapsular cataract development. Additional contributory conditions may include diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.

Regardless of the positioning of the cataract on the lens, there are several tell-tale signs and symptoms that may develop. Individuals will usually notice the gradual dimming or clouding of their vision. With time, they may notice their night vision decreasing, that colors appear faded or muted, and they develop sensitivity to light. Those who develop a subcapsular cataract will also notice the formation of halos around artificial light sources, such as street lamps.

In most cases, if the subcapsular cataract does not impede one’s vision in a pronounced way, surgery may be put off. Those who choose to forgo surgery are generally instructed to have regular checkups with their ophthalmologist to check for any marked changes in their vision. Individuals whose vision impairment interferes with daily activities, such as driving, will generally have surgery to remove the affected lens.

The excision of the affected lens, either in part or in its entirety, will generally necessitate the implantation of a plastic, replacement lens. Those whose ill health or existing eye issues prevent the implantation of a replacement lens may gain better vision with the use of contact lenses or glasses. If both eyes are affected, surgery is generally performed with the use of general anesthetic on one eye at a time during separate appointments. Following outpatient cataract surgery, individuals may generally return to everyday activities within a few days without restriction. Risks associated with cataract surgery include retinal detachment and infection.



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