For some, it’s a sudden and noticeable change. For others, their vision becomes blurry over time. Either way, cataracts can have a stressful and negative impact on a person’s vision and quality of life. What causes cataracts?
Age: The most common cause of cataracts is age. As we get older, proteins in the lens of our eye begin to break down and stick together, thickening the lens and making it less flexible, This causes the clouding that is cataracts. This age-related breakdown begins around age 40-50. By age 80, over half of Americans will have cataracts.
Diabetes: There is a link between high blood sugar levels and cataracts. When blood sugar spikes, it negatively impacts blood vessels, including those in the eye. This can lead to swelling which damages the lens.
Smoking: Smokers are twice as likely to develop cataracts as non-smokers, and the risk increases the more you smoke. Smoking causes degeneration of the muscles in the eye, as well as damage to the cells that make up the eye lens. The good news is much of this damage is reversible if you quit smoking.
Steroid Use: Long-term use of certain steroid medications, such as prednisone, has been linked to an increased risk of developing cataracts. Steroid use is tied to posterior subcapsular cataracts which form at the back of the lens and can impair vision at night, while reading or in bright light.
Damage to the Eye: Excessive sunlight exposure or physical injuries to the eye can cause cataracts. UV rays from sunlight are responsible for about 1 in 10 cataracts. Physical trauma to the eye can also interfere with the functioning of the lens, leading to cataracts.
Where You Live: Although it’s not understood why, living at high altitude puts you at greater risk for cataracts.
You may be worried that cataracts are caused by something you did, but for most people cataracts are caused by the natural aging process or genetics. Preventative measures are key, although cataracts will still impact over 50% of people at some point in their life. Managing underlying health issues, having regular eye exams, not smoking, and wearing quality sunglasses can all play a role in delaying or completely preventing cataracts!