Table of Contents
There are several potential causes of cataracts. Understanding these causes can help you reduce your risk. (Learn More)
For example, Flonase may cause cataracts, even in younger people. (Learn More) The breast cancer treatment tamoxifen has been associated with cataracts. (Learn More) Smoking has long been known to increase the risk of cataracts. (Learn More)
Heavy alcohol consumption does increase the risk of cataracts, but light or moderate drinking may have a protective effect against cataracts. (Learn More) Some high blood pressure medicines slightly increase the risk of cataracts, while others do not. (Learn More)
People who are very nearsighted have an increased risk of cataracts. (Learn More) Sunlight in general does not increase the risk of cataracts, but ultraviolet light, which is part of sunlight, can cause damage that leads to cataracts. (Learn More)
Regular eye exams are essential to get an early cataract diagnosis before the condition impacts your vision. (Learn More)
How Can Cataracts Be Prevented?
Cataracts are cloudy areas, spots, or streaks that develop in the lens of the eye. Over several years, cataracts may grow large enough to cause blindness.
There are several potential causes of cataracts, with age and heredity being the leading risk factors. If you are at risk for developing cataracts, you likely want to know how to mitigate your risk so you can keep clear vision for longer.
There are several medications, substances, and conditions that can increase your risk of developing cataracts, but it is important to understand that no single cause will trigger cataracts. Discuss your concerns and risk factors with your eye doctor during regular eye exams. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist can check your lens for any signs of cataracts before they begin to obscure your vision.
Ultimately, many substances and behaviors can contribute to the formation of cataracts. While they don’t necessarily cause cataracts, they do increase the likelihood of developing them.
Does Flonase Cause Cataracts?
People who have chronic allergies may use Flonase, Veramyst, or another nasal spray that contains corticosteroids to ease inflammation, allow for better sinus draining, and lessen other symptoms associated with allergies.
Using these medications occasionally should not cause many lasting problems, but many people use these regularly. Corticosteroids are known to increase your risk of cataracts, even in people who are younger than 40.
Medical surveys since 1980 have found a link between inhaled corticosteroids like Flonase and nuclear and posterior subcapsular cataracts.
The Blue Mountains Eye Study specifically investigated people who used inhaled corticosteroids consistently for many years but did not use systemic corticosteroids, which was a problem with other study groups. The community-based study surveyed older adults who had attended an asthma clinic between 1992 and 1993 and received inhaled corticosteroid treatment. About 82 percent of the original identified adults participated in the cataract study, ranging in age from 49 to 97. They found a strong association between the use of inhaled corticosteroid treatment and cataract development, specifically posterior subcapsular cataracts.
Can Tamoxifen Trigger Cataracts?
Tamoxifen is a medication used in breast cancer treatment, and it can be a vital component of saving lives. The medication is an oral anti-estrogen drug, which helps stop cancerous tumors from growing.
The drug has also been linked to an increased risk of cataracts. Both breast cancer and cataracts become more likely in older adults.
A large clinical trial surveyed 1,297 women who had undergone breast cancer treatment between 1987 and 1996. The group was categorized as standard-term users (four to five years); short-term users (less than four years); and long-term users (more than six years). The group was compared to women who did not take tamoxifen.
The study found that short-term and standard-term users were more likely to develop cataracts compared to the control group, and the risk level for standard-term and long-term tamoxifen users was about the same. The study concluded that women who sought tamoxifen treatment should discuss cataract risk with their doctors and ensure they receive regular eye exams if they do pursue the therapy.
Smoking & Cataracts
A meta-analysis of smokers and former smokers and their risk of cataracts reinforced the association between smoking cigarettes and developing cataracts later in life. The researchers examined 13 prospective and 8 case-controlled studies that had information on smoking and age-related cataracts.
There was a positive association between nuclear cataracts and ever smoking cigarettes. The researchers also found some significant correlation between posterior subcapsular cataracts. Current smokers in the studies were found to have a higher risk of cataracts compared to people who quit smoking.
If you are concerned about your risk of cataracts, ask your doctor about how to successfully quit smoking.
Alcohol’s Effects on Cataracts
Although many substances, from prescription to recreational, can increase your risk of cataracts, some types of alcohol consumption have been associated with decreasing the risk of cataracts. Light to moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to decrease pressure in arteries in the eye, which may be associated with a lower risk of cataracts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines this as one standard drink per day for women and two standard drinks per day for men. The CDC also notes that there is no fully safe consumption of alcohol, but there are ways to reduce your risk if you do drink.
A study that found less risk for light and moderate drinkers did note that people who drink heavily, instead of in moderation or not at all, may also smoke cigarettes, which is a confirmed risk factor for age-related cataract development. However, the study did associate heavy drinking with an increased risk of cataracts later in life.
Do High Blood Pressure Medications Cause Cataracts?
People with high blood pressure may need medication in combination with dietary and exercise changes to manage this condition, but some types of blood pressure medication have been associated with a higher risk of cataracts.
There are several families of blood pressure medications, but beta blockers and calcium channel blockers were found to be associated with a slightly higher risk of cataract development. Diuretic and ACE inhibitors were not associated with a higher risk of cataracts.
An Australian study tracked 3,500 people between 1992 and 1994 who took these types of blood pressure drugs. The participants were an average of 49 years old. About 54 percent of people who took ACE inhibitors ended up undergoing cataract surgery, which was not found to be statistically significant. About 61 percent of people who took beta blockers also underwent cataract surgery.
Does Myopia/Nearsightedness Cause Cataracts?
People who are extremely nearsighted have an increased risk for some other eye conditions, so you may wonder if you have an increased risk of developing cataracts if you have myopia.
A study showed that simple myopia does not increase your risk of cataracts, while high myopia is a common risk factor for developing cataracts due to an increased risk of damaging proteins in the lens. The British study also found that worsening myopia within four years of a cataract diagnosis, after having relatively stable nearsightedness, can indicate the development of a cataract.
The Effect of Sunlight & Ultraviolet Light on Cataracts
Sunlight in general does not harm your eyes, but ultraviolet (UV) light can cause a range of eye problems. For example, if you are outside in bright light for too long, either in the summer or winter, you may get a sunburn on the surface of your eye, called the conjunctiva.
Long-term, consistent sunlight damage to your eyes exposes your lens to high levels of both UVA and UVB radiation. This radiation can damage the proteins and cause cataracts.
This is a simple risk factor to reduce. Make sure you have sunglasses that filter UVA and UVB to wear during the day. If you enjoy skiing or other winter activities, wear goggles or sunglasses that allow you to participate in these sports while also protecting your eyes from reflected UV light.
If you work in a job that exposes you to UV light from other sources, ensure that you have proper safety gear to protect your eyes.
Manage Your Cataract Risk
If you take any of the prescription medications that list cataracts as a side effect, work with your doctor to find better solutions or otherwise mitigate your risk. You can also make lifestyle changes that will keep your eyes healthier overall.
- Quit smoking.
- Eat healthy, consuming a wide range of fruits and vegetables.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses to reduce UV light exposure.
- Get regular dilated eye exams, especially if you are 60 or older.
Your eye doctor can help you manage your cataract risk by examining your eyes for this potential problem and identifying cataracts before they cause loss of eyesight. Your doctor will also let you know if or when you need to get cataract surgery.
At a Glance: Cataracts. (August 2019). National Eye Institute.
People’s Pharmacy: The Link Between Flonase and Cataracts. (July 2010). The Seattle Times.
Use of Inhaled Corticosteroids and the Risk of Cataracts. (July 1997). The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).
Eye Problems in Breast Cancer Patients Treated With Tamoxifen. (March 2000). Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.
Smoking and Risk of Age-Related Cataract: A Meta-Analysis. (June 2012). Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.
Different Amounts of Alcohol Consumption and Cataract. (April 2015). Optometry and Vision Science (OVS).
Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol. (December 2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Higher Risk of Cataract Surgery with the Use of Drugs to Reduce Blood Pressure. (July 2009). Medical News Today.
Cataract: The Relation Between Myopia and Cataract Morphology. (June 1987). British Journal of Ophthalmology.
The Sun, UV Light, and Your Eyes. (June 2020). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).