Many factors increase a person’s chances of developing cataracts. Although there is little research proving cataract prevention, doctors suspect several strategies may help.

A cataract is a cloudy area that develops in the clear part of the eye that helps with focusing light, known as the lens. It can cause a person’s vision to become blurry, less colorful, or hazy.

Cataracts are common as people age. At around age 40 years, the proteins in the lens begin to break down and may clump together, causing a cloudy area on the lens. More than 50% of people in the United States ages 80 years and over have a cataract or have had surgery to remove cataracts.

Surgery is the only way to get rid of cataracts. However, not all people need surgery immediately. Waiting for surgery does not cause lasting damage to the eyes or cause complications during the procedure.

This article examines whether people can prevent cataracts. It also discusses the particular prevention methods and how they may help.

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Photo by Ali Majdfar, All rights reserved/Getty Images

There is no scientific evidence to support ways to prevent cataracts. Age and genetics can heavily influence their development, which a person cannot change.

However, some factors that can raise the risk of cataracts are ones that people can change. People can follow dietary and lifestyle strategies to reduce these risk factors and their likelihood of the condition.

Modifiable factors influencing the risk of cataracts may include:

  • diet
  • smoking
  • alcohol use
  • sun exposure

Learn more about cataracts.

The eyes are particularly susceptible to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs from an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants. It can trigger cell damage.

Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells. Antioxidants are compounds in the body that can counteract damage.

Oxidative stress is a possible factor in the development of cataracts. In observational studies, researchers have investigated the role of antioxidant nutrients in preventing cataracts or slowing their progression. Their findings suggest a reduction in the risk of cataracts with a diet containing optimal levels of:

However, clinical studies that compare antioxidant vitamin supplements with no supplement or a placebo have not detected any effect on the occurrence or progression of cataracts.

A 2019 literature review found that experts generally agree that a nutritious, balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables that contain vitamins C, E, and A and multivitamin and mineral supplements may protect against cataracts.

The review notes that the dietary intake of those vitamins is more effective than supplements.

Researchers need to conduct more studies over extended periods with particular combinations of antioxidants to determine whether antioxidants are helpful for cataract prevention.

Learn more about vitamins for eye health.

Smoking cigarettes can damage the parts of the eyes essential for maintaining clear eyesight and vision.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), people who smoke cigarettes are around 2–3 times more likely to develop cataracts than people who do not smoke.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that e-cigarette flavors may increase free radical production, which damages DNA and can lead to cataracts. The WHO urges individuals not to use tobacco and e-cigarettes to protect their overall health.

People can help lower their risk of developing cataracts by quitting smoking.

Several studies have investigated the link between alcohol consumption and cataracts but have had inconsistent results.

Some studies have found an increase in the risk of cataracts with heavy drinking compared with no alcohol consumption.

In contrast, other studies have noted either no effect of alcohol intake on cataract development or a protective effect of alcohol on cataracts.

Moderate consumption vs. frequency

A large 2021 study found that low to moderate alcohol consumption may lower the risk of cataract surgery.

In particular, study participants who consumed wine five or more times each week were 14–23% less likely than non-drinkers to undergo cataract surgery. Participants drinking similar amounts of beer, cider, or spirits had no significantly reduced risk.

However, compared to participants consuming alcohol once or twice weekly, people drinking daily alcoholic beverages had a 6% higher risk of cataract surgery.

These findings suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may lower the risk of cataracts, but a high frequency of alcohol intake may increase a person’s risk.

Researchers note there is a need for more research before they can draw firm conclusions from their findings.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate drinking is two drinks or fewer in a day for males and one drink or fewer in a day for females.

However, the CDC states that drinking alcohol even within the recommended limits may increase the risk of death from several causes, including many cancer types and some forms of cardiovascular disease.

Learn more about the effect of alcohol on the eyes.

Just as ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can cause skin damage, it can also damage the eyes.

UV light penetrates eye tissues more easily than visible light. According to the National Eye Institute, prolonged exposure to UV rays can modify proteins in the eye’s lens, resulting in cataract formation.

A 2020 study found an increased risk of developing cataracts with higher levels of lifetime sun exposure.

Wearing sunglasses and a hat is the most effective way to protect the eyes from UV rays. Wearing a hat with a broad, dark rim helps shade the eyes and reduce glare.

Sunglasses work by reflecting or blocking UV light from the eyes. For complete protection, a person can consider wraparound sunglasses to prevent UV rays from reaching the eye. They can also look for lenses with 99–100% protection from UVA and UVB rays, or with a label saying “UV400 rating.”

Learn more about eye protection.

In the early stages of a cataract, a person may not realize they have one. Over time, they may notice difficulty reading or doing other daily activities.

Regular eye exams with an eye doctor can help keep the eyes healthy. They can evaluate a person’s risk of eye diseases, recognize eye diseases early, help them take steps to protect sight, and guide healthy lifestyle choices.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends a complete eye examination at age 40. The AAO states this is the age when early signs of disease or vision changes may arise.

For people without symptoms and at low risk for eye disease, the AAO recommends the following frequency for eye exams:

  • ages 40–54 every 2–4 years
  • ages 55–64 every 1–3 years
  • ages 65 years old or older every 1–2 years

Some people may require more regular eye checkups if they have a higher risk of certain eye conditions, even if they do not have symptoms.

People cannot prevent cataracts entirely. This is because age and genetics play a significant role in their development, which a person cannot change.

However, people can modify their risk of cataracts by avoiding some other risk factors that may contribute to their development.

People may lower their risk of cataracts by eating a nutritious, balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol.

People can also ensure they get regular eye exams, particularly after age 40, as this is the age people start to experience vision changes and early signs of eye disease.