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What can I do to prevent cataracts?

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A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which can lead to blurred, impaired vision, and glare and halos at night. There are no scientifically proven ways to fully prevent cataracts; however, diet and lifestyle choices may help reduce your risk of developing cataracts. Many of these habits will also be beneficial for your overall health.

Why do people get cataracts?

Cataracts occur when the transparent lens in the eye becomes cloudy. The result is blurry vision. It can be harder to see at night, and colors may not appear as bright. Most cataracts are age-related and develop slowly over time. Individuals aged 60 and older often have some clouding of their lenses.

Scientists believe that oxidative stress may be one factor in cataract formation. Oxidative stress can damage enzymes and proteins in the eye's lens, and over time this may contribute to the cloudiness of a cataract. 

How to lower your risk of cataracts

Though there is no proven way to prevent cataracts, lowering oxidative stress is one way to help reduce your risk of cataracts and slow their progression when they occur. Here are some other ways to keep your eyes healthy:

Eat a diet high in antioxidants

Make sure your diet has lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. The deep reds, purples, oranges, yellows, greens and blues of these foods indicate they are high in powerful antioxidants. 

Some of these antioxidants are associated with a lower risk of cataracts. In one study of over 35,000 women, those who consumed diets rich in lutein and zeaxanthin — antioxidants present in yellow and dark green leafy vegetables — had an 18% lower risk of developing cataracts than women who ate diets low in these foods. 

In another study of over 30,000 women who were age 49 or older, diets higher in antioxidants were correlated with lower incidence of cataract development.

Increase your omega-3 fatty acids

A diet high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids may be linked to a lower risk of cataracts. Omega-3 fats are found in fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, oysters, sardines, some shellfish and tuna. They are also found in some fortified foods, culinary oils, walnuts and flaxseed.

Cut excess carbs

Complex carbohydrates in whole grains and legumes — such as peanuts, chickpeas, black beans and peas — are healthy components of a quality diet. However, higher carbohydrate intake may be linked to a higher risk of developing cataracts. A review of seven studies on carbs and cataracts found that carbohydrate intake was linked to the risk of having certain age-related cataracts.

Quit smoking 

Smoking cigars or cigarettes can significantly increase your risk of cataract development, and the more you smoke, the greater your risk. 

Wear sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats

Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun has long been associated with cataract risk. A 2014 Johns Hopkins study suggests UV rays cause damage to the proteins in the lens, eventually leading to cataracts. 

To protect your eyes, wear sunglasses that completely block UV light. Wraparound sunglasses typically offer more protection than other styles as they are designed to block light coming in from the sides of your face. You can also add a wide-brimmed hat to shield your eyes from rays that might slip over the top of your shades.

Know the common risk factors

Certain conditions, medications and medical procedures can raise your risk of developing cataracts. This includes: 

  • Long-term use of steroid medications

  • Diabetes

  • High blood sugar

  • Obesity

  • High blood pressure

  • Radiation treatments

  • Some eye injuries

  • Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs

Get regular eye exams

One of the best ways to protect your eyes is to make sure you see your eye doctor for an annual eye exam. Eye exams can detect cataracts at their earliest stages, allowing you time to consider treatment options and make helpful lifestyle changes that may slow progression and help keep your eyes healthy. 

Eye drops that may prevent cataracts are being studied and may be available someday in the future.

See all cataract FAQs

What are cataracts? American Academy of Ophthalmology. July 2021.

Oxidative stress in cataracts. Pathophysiology. August 2006.

Nutritional strategies to prevent lens cataract: current status and future strategies. Nutrients. May 2019.

Total antioxidant capacity of the diet and risk of age-related cataract: a population-based prospective cohort of women. JAMA Ophthalmology. March 2014.

Associations between age-related nuclear cataract and lutein and zeaxanthin in the diet and serum in the Carotenoids in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, an ancillary study of the Women's Health Initiative. Archives of Ophthalmology. March 2008.

Dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids and their role in eye health. Nutrients. April 2013.

Prospective study of dietary fat and risk of cataract extraction among US women. American Journal of Epidemiology. May 2005.

Omega 3 fatty acids. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. August 2021.

Association between dietary carbohydrate intake and dietary glycemic index and risk of age-related cataract: a meta-analysis. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science. May 2014.

Smoking and its association with cataract: results of the Andhra Pradesh eye disease study from India. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science. January 2005.

UVA light-excited kynurenines oxidize ascorbate and modify lens proteins through the formation of advanced glycation end products: implications for human lens aging and cataract formation. Journal of Biological Chemistry. May 2014

Etiopathogenesis of cataract: An appraisal. Indian Journal of Ophthalmology. February 2014.

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