It’s most likely that you know of at least one person who has cataracts, if not someone who has already undergone cataract surgery. Perhaps you yourself have just been told you’re developing a cataract. Cataracts and cataract surgery are very common around the globe. If you’ve not yet started developing cataracts, you may be interested to know what the known cataract risk factors are, and whether any of them apply to you. Keep reading to find out.
Risk Factors of Cataract
The risk factors of a cataract are just that – risk factors. It doesn’t mean that if one or more of these factors are relevant to you that you are destined to develop a cataract requiring cataract surgery. It just means that you’re more likely to get cataracts compared to someone without those particular cataract risk factors. Conversely, even if you’re pleased to report that none of the known risk factors of cataract applies to you, this doesn’t mean you’re instantly in the clear. Here are some of the known cataract risk factors.
The reason cataracts and cataract surgery are so common is that everyone ages. And just like wrinkles and grey hairs, the development of cataracts is most strongly associated with increasing age. It’s not fully understood exactly why cataracts grow as we get older, but experts believe it’s at least partly to do with oxidative stress on the crystalline lens of the eye (which is where the cataract forms). As we age, our bodies become less able to combat the effects of oxidation on the lens. Decreases in the production of protective compounds and an increase in damaging compounds in the eye as we get older can result in a loss of transparency of the lens fibres. As this progresses, the gradual cloudiness of the lens becomes a cataract.
Another underlying factor of age as one of the risk factors for cataract is that age is also typically associated with other diseases. Certain systemic diseases and certain medications, as we’ll find out later, can increase the risk of cataract.
Family history of cataracts
Researchers have found some genetic links to the development of cataracts. Though there does appear to be some inherited predisposition to the early onset of age-related cataract and needing cataract surgery at a younger age, this association is not fully understood. However, the influence of genetics on congenital cataracts is a little clearer. Congenital cataracts occur within the first year after birth, and up to half of all congenital cataract cases are thought to be inherited.
It is also possible for cataracts to be part of a syndrome or larger eye condition, which may be genetic. These include retinitis pigmentosa and neurofibromatosis.
In addition to increasing your risk of other ocular diseases, tobacco smoking is one of the known cataract risk factors. It is thought that the toxins introduced to the body through cigarettes can accelerate oxidative damage of the crystalline lens.
Studies have found an association between high blood pressure (hypertension) and an increased risk of cataracts. There appears to be a positive correlation, meaning the higher the blood pressure, the higher the risk of cataracts. There is also a link between suffering from hypertension for a longer period of time and an increased risk of cataract.
How this relationship works is not exactly understood. One hypothesis is that certain anti-hypertension medications can induce cataracts, while other studies have also found hypertension can cause whole-body inflammation, which could impact the crystalline lens. There may also be a genetic component that could predispose a person to both hypertension and cataract formation.
Diabetes is one of the well-known cataract risk factors. Furthermore, diabetes can also increase the risk of complications during cataract surgery.
Diabetes mellitus is a systemic disease involving impaired insulin production by the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone responsible for allowing the cells of the body to uptake glucose (sugars) from the bloodstream. Without sufficient insulin, people with diabetes end up with excess glucose circulating in their bodies. This can result in various complications, such as foot disease and retinopathy (disease of the retina of the eyeball), and cataracts.
High blood glucose concentrations can tip the balance of water content in the crystalline lens, resulting in what’s sometimes called a “sugar cataract”.
Managing blood glucose levels well may help to reduce a diabetic person’s risk of developing a cataract.
Trauma to the eye can come in different forms. These include inflammation from an eye disease such as uveitis; physical trauma, whether blunt or sharp; eye surgery; or electrocution. Such traumatic events can, through various mechanisms, disrupt the arrangement or integrity of the lens fibres, resulting in a loss of transparency and the development of a cataract.
Obesity is not typically mentioned at the top of cataract risk factors, but studies have demonstrated a positive association. It is thought that an overweight body releases certain chemicals from excess fat tissues. This chemical, known as leptin, may induce oxidative stress and induce cataract formation.
The relationship between alcohol intake and developing cataracts appears to be not as straightforward as the other cataract risk factors. Studies show that the higher the alcohol consumption, the higher the risk of needing cataract surgery. However, some studies have also found that moderate alcohol consumption (less than 20g of alcohol a day), could offer a protective effect against cataract formation. This may be due to the antioxidant properties of alcohol.
As mentioned previously, it is not possible to guarantee that you’ll avoid cataract surgery forever. However, by addressing modifiable risk factors such as smoking and managing systemic conditions well, you can reduce your risk of developing cataracts.
Call us on (03) 9070 5753 today.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.
Age-Related or Senile Cataract: Pathology, Mechanism, and Management.
Genetic Origins of Cataract.
Hypertension and Risk of Cataract: A Meta-analysis.