How can I prevent cataracts from developing?
Although cataracts are not entirely preventable because they are a disease of older age, there are causes that can make this disease progress. Therefore, keeping oneself healthy from these risk factors can help in delaying or preventing cataracts. These risk factors are smoking, diabetes, sun overexposure and steroid medications. Also, excessive alcohol use and poor diet are risk factors.
Laura C. Fine, MD
There is no sure way to avoid developing cataract (clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye). However, because of the link between cataract and the sun's ultraviolet radiation, people should always wear sunglasses, hats, or visors when outdoors. There is also some evidence that the eyes as well as the heart and brain may be affected by smoking, providing yet another good reason for smokers to quit.

There is mixed evidence that antioxidant vitamins may play a role in cataract prevention by capturing unstable molecules called free radicals; these are believed to degrade proteins in the eye's lens. Both exposure to ultraviolet radiation and the body's own metabolic processes can create tissue-damaging free radicals. Some studies found a lower incidence of cataract among people who took vitamin A, beta carotene, and vitamin E supplements. However, the large Age-Related Eye Disease Study published in 2001 found that a high-dose supplement of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, and zinc had no effect on development of cataract. The evidence is not strong enough to recommend that everyone take antioxidant supplements, but you may want to discuss supplement use with your doctor.

In the meantime, several studies have suggested a possible benefit from eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, which contain an abundance of antioxidant vitamins. The results showed that people who ate the most foods rich in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, such as spinach and other dark green vegetables, were less likely to develop cataract than those who ate the least.

Although the exact cause of cataracts is not known, there are ways to reduce your risk. Wear sunglasses outside during the day to prevent overexposure to the sun and quit smoking. People who take corticosteroids may want to discuss an alternative medication with their doctors to decrease their risk for cataracts as well. In addition, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet containing lots of fruits and vegetables to ensure that your body is getting the vitamins and nutrients it needs.

There is almost nothing that you can do to prevent an aging person from developing a cataract, as cataract is a function of aging and is not a disease. Cataract surgery is the only way to remedy a cataract and should be performed only when the reduction of vision from the cataract reaches a level of functional compromise that is no longer tolerable to that person.

Protecting eyes from long-term UV light; proper nutrition; avoidance of certain oral, nasal, and eye medications; and avoiding ocular trauma are ways to reduce the likelihood of developing cataracts at an earlier age, but everyone will develop cataracts if they live long enough.

Delaying cataract surgery after certain stages in its development can make cataract surgery more difficult for the surgeon and therefore less safe for the patient. Ask your ophthalmologist (eye doctor) to evaluate your cataract, and advise you if cataract surgery is necessary or optional.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.