Nuclear sclerosis is a common eye condition that has links to the aging process. It refers to the clouding, yellowing, and hardening of the central part of the lens of the eye, called the nucleus.

This process is a result of aging and is common among older adults. It can cause mild vision changes, but in most cases, people can wear glasses to correct them.

Nuclear sclerosis is a type of nuclear cataract, or a cataract that affects the center of the lens. An ophthalmologist may recommend surgical removal if a cataract is affecting a person’s daily life.

Read on to learn more about nuclear sclerosis, including symptoms, causes, and how doctors may diagnose the condition.

A person undergoing an eye exam to test for nuclear sclerosis -1.Share on Pinterest
nattrass/Getty Images

Nuclear sclerosis symptoms generally progress slowly and may vary among different people.

Some symptoms include:

Nuclear sclerosis is a type of cataract — they are not two different conditions. It happens when the lens becomes more opaque and brown in color. When nuclear sclerosis progresses to a severe degree, cataract surgery may be necessary.

A doctor will categorize nuclear sclerotic cataracts in grades ranging from 1 to 4.

A grade 1 cataract is the first stage after the condition progresses from nuclear sclerosis into a nuclear sclerotic cataract. Once the lens becomes entirely opaque, healthcare professionals consider a cataract to be grade 4.

Some symptoms of a nuclear sclerotic cataract are different from nuclear sclerosis symptoms or may be more severe. They include:

  • the center of the eye appears yellow or brown
  • everything appears blurry or dull, or both
  • having difficulty seeing anything in bright light
  • having difficulty driving due to struggling to see road signs or pedestrians and difficulty judging distances
  • having difficulty telling colors apart
  • having significant difficulty seeing objects in the distance

Nuclear sclerosis occurs when the lens at the center of the eye begins to thicken and change color.

The lens of the eye comprises water and proteins. As a person ages, these proteins begin to clump together, causing them to become thicker and more opaque at the eye’s center. This changes how light passes through the eye, causing changes in vision.

Although these changes are a typical part of aging, some risk factors can increase the chance of nuclear sclerosis and nuclear sclerotic cataracts.

Risk factors include:

  • smoking and other tobacco use
  • having obesity
  • being short-sighted, which doctors call myopia
  • having a family history of nuclear sclerosis
  • having diabetes
  • exposure to UVB light through using sunlight or tanning beds

Nuclear sclerosis is identifiable during a routine eye exam and is generally simple for an eye doctor, optometrist, or ophthalmologist to diagnose. Several eye tests may help diagnose nuclear sclerosis, including:

  • Slit lamp exam: This eye test involves a microscope with a very bright light that eye doctors shine into the eye through a slit. This allows the doctor to examine the lens and other parts of the eye in detail and assess if nuclear sclerosis is present.
  • Dilated eye exam: This is a simple eye exam that can test the overall function of the eye. It involves several small tests, which include eye drops that allow the doctor to see through the lens.
  • Red reflex test: This test can help diagnose vision changes in adults. It involves bouncing light off the eye’s surface and using a magnifying glass to see how the eye reflects the light.

Mild nuclear sclerosis does not require treatment, and glasses can typically correct vision problems that arise due to this condition.

Once the nuclear sclerosis progresses to the point that glasses cannot correct vision problems, doctors will recommend cataract surgery. This involves removing and replacing the eye’s lens with an artificial replica.

There are other ways to make living with a cataract more manageable before surgery becomes necessary. People can try:

  • avoiding night driving
  • using stronger lights for reading or other activities
  • using a magnifying glass for reading or other activities
  • having regular eye tests to ensure glasses prescriptions are up to date
  • wearing antiglare sunglasses

Some lifestyle changes may help slow the progress of nuclear sclerosis. They include:

Nuclear sclerosis is a natural part of the aging process, causing the lens at the center of the eye to thicken and change color.

The progression of nuclear sclerosis is irreversible, but certain lifestyle factors can help slow the process.

In its early stages, nuclear sclerosis can cause vision changes that glasses can correct. However, once it progresses to the point that glasses become ineffective, cataract surgery is necessary.