Aging is the primary risk factor for cataracts, but other factors are also involved.
Nearly everyone who lives long enough will develop cataracts to some extent. Some people develop cataracts during their middle-aged years (40s and 50s), but these cataracts tend to be very small. It is after age 60 that cataracts are most likely to affect vision. Nearly half of people age 75 and older have cataracts.
Women face a higher risk than men.
Cataracts tend to run in families.
African-Americans seem to have nearly twice the risk of developing cataracts than do Caucasians. This difference may be due to other medical illnesses, particularly diabetes. African-Americans are much more likely to become blind from cataracts and glaucoma than Caucasians, mostly due to lack of treatment.
Hispanic Americans are also at increased risk for cataracts. In fact, cataracts are the leading cause of visual impairment among Hispanics.
People with certain medical conditions, notably diabetes, are at high risk for cataracts, either because of a direct effect of the disease, its treatments, or both.
Diabetes. People with diabetes type 1 or 2 are at very high risk for cataracts and are much more likely to develop them at a younger age. They also have a higher risk for nuclear cataracts than nondiabetics. Cataract development is significantly related to high levels of blood sugar (hyperglycemia), and cataracts in people with diabetes are sometimes referred to as so-called sugar cataracts.
Autoimmune Diseases and Conditions Requiring Steroid Use. Medical conditions requiring high use of corticosteroids (commonly called steroids) pose a particularly high risk. Many of these medical conditions are autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, Behcet's disease, and others.
Eye Conditions. People who are nearsighted (myopia) are at increased risk of developing cataracts. Physical injuries to the eye (such as a hard blow, cut, or puncture) or eye inflammation can also increase risk. Previous intraocular eye surgery increases cataract risk.
Obesity. Obesity may be a risk factor for cataracts
Exposure to even low-level UVB radiation from sunlight increases the risk for cataracts, especially nuclear cataracts. The risk may be highest among those who have significant sun exposure at a young age. People whose jobs expose them to sunlight for prolonged periods are also at increased risk.
Smoking. Smoking a pack a day of cigarettes may double the risk of developing cataracts. Smokers are at particular risk for cataracts located in the nuclear portion of the lens, which limit vision more severely than cataracts in other sites.
Alcohol. Chronic heavy drinkers are at high risk for a number of eye disorders, including cataracts.
Long-term environmental lead exposure may increase the risk of developing cataracts. Gold and copper accumulation may also cause cataracts. Prolonged exposure to ionizing radiation (such as x-rays) can increase cataract risk.
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