Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness, so understanding the risk factors can help protect your vision. Some factors, like age and family history, can’t be controlled. However, there are lifestyle habits you can avoid to preserve your vision.
Cataracts are common with advancing age and are due to changes occurring in the natural lens of the eye.. First, protein build-up clouds the lens. This starts to blur vision and grows with time. Second, the clear lens starts to change color from clear to yellow-brown. This will change your perception of color, especially the blue spectrum. If you notice these symptoms, let your doctor know.
Diabetic patients who do not control their sugar levels (glucose) often develop cataracts. High levels of glucose will cause the eye’s lens to swell which blurs vision. Also, an enzyme on the lens will convert glucose to sorbitol which will collect on the lens. This makes your vision blurry or yellow. If you have diabetes, be sure to get regular eye exams.
Tobacco has many negative affects on the health of the eye, including encouraging cataracts. In fact, the CDC reports that smokers are two to three times more likely to have cataracts. This is one of the many reasons why doctors encourage patients to quit smoking.
Prolonged Use of Corticosteroid Medications
Prolonged use of some steroid medications can cause cataracts. Be sure to report this during your regular eye exams. If you are using a corticosteroid medication to treat another illness, talk to your doctor about how to protect your vision.
Excessive Alcohol Use
Alcohol consumption slightly increases the risk of cataracts and Harvard Health reports that, “…the more you drink, the greater the risk.” Over time, excessive alcohol consumption damages the eye by causing the proteins in the eye to turn opaque. This will make vision blurry or increase glare. This is one of the many reasons why doctors caution against excessive alcohol use (4-5 alcoholic drinks per day).
Excessive Exposure to Sunlight
Although they make take years to develop, excessive exposure to sunlight contributes to cataracts. When combined with other risk factors, UV exposure leads to eye disease. Be sure to wear sunglasses outside, even when it does not appear sunny.
Family History of Cataracts
As with many medical conditions, family history plays a role in your risk for cataracts. Be sure to report a family history of cataracts on your medical paperwork. This will help your doctor look for early signs of eye disease.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) has been found in patients who develop cataracts. This may be connected with the other lifestyle factors, such as smoking and diabetes, that contribute to cataracts. If you have high blood pressure, please discuss the risks to your vision with your doctor.
Good dietary habits can play a role in protecting your eyes from the development of cataracts. In fact, in a recent study, Vitamin C has been linked with slowling the development of cataract formation. (Link: http://www.aao.org/eye-health/news/vitamin-c-rich-foods-help-curb-cataracts
Like high blood pressure, obesity is linked to cataracts because it is often found with other risk factors. Several eye diseases, including cataracts, have been widely reported in association with obesity. Please discuss any symptoms with your doctor and schedule regular eye exams.
Preserving your vision is a priority, especially as you age. While some risk factors, such as aging cannot be changed, there are several lifestyle changes that can help protect your vision. If you suspect you might have cataracts, please contact your eye doctor for an examination.