Are you at risk for cataracts? Scary thought, but you could be. Cataracts is an eye condition in which the lens of the eye loses transparency in some areas, leading to interference of vision and a blurred look through the lens. The word ‘cataract” itself literally means ‘waterfall’, since having cataracts can feel as if you are trying to see through water. Cataracts are no laughing matter, and knowing if you are more at risk for them than others can help you have a clearer view as to how to prepare yourself keep on top of your eye health.
Cataracts usually occur due to old age, yet chances of getting cataracts increases with many factors. Surprisingly, women have a higher chance of getting cataracts than men do, believed to be due to hormones. As women reach their postmenopausal years, their estrogen levels drop, leaving women more susceptible to cataracts, experts believe. Though unsure of the connection between hormones and cataracts, it has been shown that hormone replacement therapy does reduce the risk of cataracts in women.
Eye color plays a factor as well. People with brown eyes are more prone for cataracts than any other eye color. Also, smoking plays a role as well. Smokers who smoke more than 15 cigarettes a day (heavy smokers) are 3 times more likely to develop cataracts than non-smokers. This is due to the ‘oxidative stress’ in the lens of the eye from the tobacco smoke irritating the eye. Free radicals and pollutants (including cigarette smoke) are believed to damage the protein and fiber cells of the lens of the eye, and create a greater window for getting cataracts in smokers. Even people who quit smoking still pose a great risk of getting cataracts- people who have not smoked for 25 years still have a 20% greater risk than non-smokers to get cataracts.
If you are near-sighted or expose your eyes to the sun without the aide of sunglasses to protect them, then you are also at a greater risk for cataracts. The sun damages the lens of the eye, much like smoking does, and can cause cataracts later in life. Near-sighted individuals have thinner lenses than far-sighted or 20/20 vision individuals, leaving their lenses more susceptible to damage from free radicals and aging overall.
Steroid use (including steroid eye drops for eye inflammation) can increase cataracts risks as well. Whether taking steroids recreationally or as a prescription, steroids affect the eye health by causing eye pressure to rise. While the link between steroid use and cataracts has been made clear, it is still unclear how much steroid use and for how long affects the eye the most. In general, however, the higher dosage of steroids, particularly under long-term use, the greater the risk for cataracts.
Knowing whether you pose a greater chance of getting cataracts (which are repaired with surgery to correct vision) than other people is a great way to know how and when to discuss the possibility with your eye doctor. It is recommended to see your eye doctor once yearly to check your vision and to also check for any underlying conditions, so cataracts can be caught early before they ultimately impair vision.