Reviewed by: Rajesh Rajpal, MD & Jason Jacobs, MD
While everyone is at risk for developing a Cataract, there are certain factors that seem to increase your risk of Cataract formation.
Age & Cataract Risk
By far the greatest risk factor for developing a Cataract is your age. It is estimated that by age 65, approximately 50% of our United States population has developed some degree of clouding of the Crystalline Lens of their eye. The degree of clouding can be minimal and not really disturb vision or it can be significant and require treatment. It just depends on the individual. Further, as we get beyond the age of 75 it is estimated that approximately 70% of our population will develop Cataracts that actually are significant to disturb vision and will require treatment.
Diabetes & Cataract Risk
Diabetes seems to cause a significant increase in the risk of developing Cataracts. It is not completely clear why this is the case, however researchers believe that since Diabetes is associated with an elevation of sugar in the blood, or hyperglycemia, and impaired glucose metabolism, it is possible that the byproducts of the faulty glucose metabolism may accumulate within the eye and cause the Crystalline Lens to become cloudy and form a Cataract. Clinically we can observe fluctuations in vision in Diabetics who are not well controlled as a result of swelling and deswelling of the Crystalline Lens, so we do know that hypoglycemia affects the Crystalline Lens.
Family History & Cataract Risk
If other members of your family have had Cataracts, there is a greater chance that you will develop a Cataract as well. Cataracts seem to run in families.
Eye Injury, Inflammation & Cataract Risk
If you have had an eye injury or eye trauma you are at a greater risk of developing a Cataract. Both a blunt trauma to the eye and a penetrating trauma to the eye can cause the formation of Cataracts. Sometimes the Cataract may not form immediately or even shortly after the trauma but is delayed for many years. Inflammation inside the eye, called Iritis, that can be caused by trauma as well some type of systemic disease such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Herpes Zoster (Shingles), also increases the risk of Cataract development.
Eye Surgery & Cataract Risk
If you have had previous intraocular surgery you have a greater chance of developing a Cataract.
Steroid Use & Cataract Risk
Steroid use is well documented to increase the risk of forming a Cataract. For many years it was believed that the main culprit in steroids causing Cataract development were the prolonged use of a high dose of oral steroid medication. This type of regimen was and still may be prescribed to treat asthma and other allergic and respiratory problems. However more recent research indicates that the use of steroid inhalers may also cause an increase in the development of Cataracts called Posterior Subcapsular Cataracts. Even prolonged use of topical steroid eye drops and ointments may predispose you to developing Cataracts. Your doctor will carefully weight the risk-benefit ratio of prescribing steroids in each particular instance.
Excessive Sunlight Exposure & Cataract Risk
It has been well documented that excessive exposure to sunlight can increase your risk of developing Cataracts. This is particularly true if you have daily repeated exposure as a result of your work or recreational activities. Those people who are exposed to a great deal of sunlight are cautioned to wear sunglasses with adequate UV protecting qualities Those people that spend considerable amounts of time in the sun and on or near the water are cautioned to wear sunglasses that protect not only against UV but offer protection from polarized light as well.
Ionizing Radiation Exposure & Cataract Risk
People who are repeatedly exposed to ionizing radiation, such as x-rays, are at greater risk of Cataract formation. Wearing protective eyewear to minimize the exposure is important in decreasing your risk of Cataracts.
Smoking & Cataract Risk
Smoking is a well-known risk factor for increasing the likelihood that you will develop Cataracts. Smoking is believed to cause the formation of free radicals throughout the body and it is these free radicals that are potentially linked to Cataract formation. In addition, smoking may deprive the Crystalline Lens on the necessary nutrients, minerals and vitamins required for the proteins in the Crystalline Lens to maintain their integrity and thus their clarity.
Obesity & Cataract Risk
Obesity is likely to increase your risk of developing Cataracts even if you are not Diabetic. Those people with a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 30 are known to a have a greater frequency of needing Cataract Surgery.
The information that has been provided here is intended to give patients an overview of Cataract Risk Factors. None of the information provided here is meant to be a substitute or replace your physician’s consultation nor does it replace the need for you to consult with your surgeon about specific details regarding the symptoms, types and development of Cataracts.