Cataract Prevention

Because smoking contributes to the risk of cataracts, stopping the habit is a vital step in cataract prevention. Studies show that former smokers have a lower risk of developing cataracts than current smokers, although their risk is not as low as that of an individual who has never smoked. Other benefits of smoking cessation include a reduced risk of cancer, lung disease, and coronary heart disease.

Wearing UV-blocking sunglasses and a hat with a wide brim will help reduce eye exposure to UV radiation and may reduce the risk of cataracts. Virtually all sunglasses with tinted plastic lenses provide protection against UV radiation; there is no relationship between the cost of a pair of sunglasses and its ability to block UV radiation. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that you wear sunglasses when you are out in the sun for a long time.

Researchers disagree about whether some drugs can reduce the risk of cataracts. Results from studies of medications like aspirin and hormone replacement therapy have been contradictory. One study found that people who used statins to lower cholesterol were 40% less likely to develop nuclear cataracts than individuals who did not use them. But a cause-and-effect relationship has not been proven, and these results would need to be confirmed in a clinical trial. It is also important to note that others have found that statins may increase cataract risk.

Some researchers have speculated that the antioxidant vitamins in foods or vitamin supplements might help prevent cataracts by protecting against free radicals—unstable oxygen molecules that, over time, can damage components of the lens. Antioxidants, which are abundant in fruits and vegetables, include beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium. Some studies have found a link between high intakes of antioxidants and a reduced incidence of cataracts, but results from the well-respected Age-Related Eye Disease Study found no cataract protection from antioxidant supplements.

Publication Review By: Susan B. Bressler, M.D., Harry A. Quigley, M.D., Oliver D. Schein, M.D., M.P.H.

Published: 01 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 22 Jun 2011