A clouding of the lens that can sometime occur as far back as birth, cataracts block or change the passage of light into the eye. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in the United States, and the leading cause of blindness worldwide. What’s more, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI), more than half of all Americans over age 80 are either living with this condition or have had surgery to remove cataracts. In the preponderance of age-related eye diseases that include glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration, cataracts are high on the list.

If you are not currently dealing with cataracts, or even if you are, the following steps can be taken toward a preemptive approach, or to stem the tide of cataracts’ progression. But first, what are the risk factors?

Risk Factors for Developing Cataracts as You Age

In addition to normal aging, risk factors to develop cataracts may include:

  • Intense heat or long-term exposure to the sun’s UV rays
  • Diseases that include diabetes
  • Eye inflammation
  • Heredity
  • Pre-birth events, such as the mother’s German measles
  • Long-term steroid use
  • Eye injuries or eye diseases
  • Smoking

While there is no surefire way to prevent cataracts, proactive lifestyle factors may decrease the odds of developing them. These may include:

Are Cataracts Affected by Diet?

Some studies have shown foods high in antioxidants vitamins C and E can positively impact cataracts. For vitamin C, citrus fruit, tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, and kiwi are among the many options. Be sure to include a ready supply of them in your daily diet for best results.

Optimal sources of vitamin E include sunflower and safflower oil. Also, green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, as well as wheatgerm and nuts—particularly almonds and peanuts.

Vitamins lutein and zeaxanthin have been noted to help protect the eyes. Eggs are a good source of these vitamins, as are green, leafy vegetables.

If you find it challenging to get the necessary vitamins from foods you should consume each day, talk with your health provider about vitamin supplements.

Smoking Linked to Cataracts

Did you know that smoking is a risk factor for cataracts? Smoke creates more toxins and free radicals that enter your eyes — cell-damaging chemicals that can be completely avoided.

Alcohol Consumption and Age-Related Cataract Risk

Some research shows that consuming more than two drinks (about 20 grams) of alcohol a day can increase the odds of getting cataracts. Interestingly, having one drink was shown to be more effective in warding off the threat of cataracts than if you didn’t consume any alcohol at all. While nothing is entirely conclusive in this realm, erring on the side of not overdoing alcohol is always a good course of action.

Can Sunglasses Reduce Your Risk of Cataracts?

UV light can cause changes in the eyes, damaging the protein in your lens. Shading the eyes is crucial in helping prevent damage that can lead to eye disease like cataracts. According to WebMD, for the most protection, be sure to obtain sunglasses that:

  • Block out 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays
  • Screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light
  • Fit your face shape, with a frame that is close to your eyes
  • Have a gray tint, which is helpful when driving

Managing Blood Sugar May Lower Risk of Cataracts

People who have diabetes have an increased chance of developing cataracts. Monitoring blood glucose levels is key to making sure blood sugar levels do not stay high for too long, which results in swelling of the lens. The lens also converts blood sugar to sorbitol, which may result in a cloudy eye leading to possible cataract formation.

Eye Exams Key for Early Cataract Detection

Not enough can be said about the importance of complete eye exams every two to four years (or more, depending on your healthcare provider) from age 40 to 64. From age 65 on, an annual eye exam or at least an exam every two years is recommended. Exams are the key to early detection and the most effective treatment options.

“What Seniors Need to Know About Age-Related Cataracts,” written by Beth Herman, Amada Blog contributor.