What Makes You More Likely to Develop Cataracts?

Surgeon holding a replacement lens for a cataract
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Medical Specialties:

Family practice, Ophthalmology

Clinical Definition:

Normally, the lens in the eyes are clear or transparent. However, a cataract is an abnormal clouding or opacity of the eye’s crystalline lens. The opacity can lead to a decrease in vision and possibly blindness.

Cataracts are thought to develop as a result of age-related degenerative alterations to the proteins in the lens. Smoking, diabetes and steroid use may also be contributing factors to the development of cataracts.

In Our Own Words:

Cataracts are a common eye condition, and most cases develop over time due to aging. The lens of the eye is made up of water and proteins. As people grow older, changes to the proteins may take place. These changes involve the proteins sticking together, which leads to cataract formation. The lens of the eye then becomes clouded, and vision decreases.

Additional factors that may cause cataracts include diabetes, smoking and steroid use. Other forms of cataracts may also occur, including congenital cataracts and traumatic cataracts. Treatment may involve surgery, depending on how badly the cataracts impair a person’s vision or impact activities.

More Information About Cataracts

Cataracts are more likely to develop in people with diabetes or uveitis, an inflammatory eye disease. Furthermore, people who have a history of eye trauma are also more likely to develop cataracts. Other causes of cataracts include radiation therapy as well as genetic diseases, such as galactosemia or neurofibromatosis type 2.

Although the exact pathophysiology, or mechanism, of cataract formation is unclear, experts believe that protein aggregates accumulate in the lens that scatter light rays entering the eyes. Other altered proteins in the lens cause opacity and yellow or brown discoloration of the lens.

Risk factors contributing to the development of cataracts include oxidative stress (think damage caused by free radicals), malnutrition and ultraviolet light.

It's unclear whether antioxidant treatments in the form of carotenoids (beta-carotene) and vitamins protect you from the development of cataracts.

Cataracts are treated with surgery. Most cataract surgery is done outpatient (outside a hospital setting). This surgery is done under local anesthesia and a plastic or silicone lens is substituted for the natural lens. Greater than 95 percent of people who receive cataract surgery can expect an improvement in vision.

Although we have effective treatment for cataracts, in the developing world, there's a dearth of resources available to treat cataracts. Consequently, 17 million cases, or about 40 percent, of all cases of blindness worldwide are attributable to cataracts. Currently, about 10 million people throughout the world are waiting for cataract surgery. Because people now live longer in many countries throughout the world, the incidence of cataracts is expected only to increase.


American Optometric Association. “Cataract.” Accessed November 2013.

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Cataracts.” Accessed November 2013.

Emory Eye Center. “Cataracts.” Accessed November 2013.

Cleveland Clinic. “Cataracts.” Accessed November 2013.

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