At this time, the specific cause of cataracts is unknown. However, researchers have determined that there are certain risk factors for cataracts. While these risk factors are not direct causes, they do increase the chance of developing a cataract. Some of these risk factors include smoking, having diabetes, and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light.
Cataract research scientists know how the lens of the eye clouds (see Age-Related Cataract Formation) and that certain things can increase a person's risk of developing cataracts. But researchers do not know what causes the lens to cloud. The search for these cataract causes continues to be an active area of research.
Cataract research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop cataracts. A risk factor is anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease. While technically not cataract causes, risk factors for cataracts may act together to increase the risk even more.
Specific cataract risk factors include:
- Age (the risk of a cataract increases as you get older)
- Long-term alcohol use
- Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet sunlight
- Lead exposure.
Many people who have known risk factors for cataracts do not develop them. On the other hand, people who do develop cataracts sometimes have no known cataract risk factors. If you think you may be at risk for cataracts, you should talk with your doctor. Your doctor may be able to suggest ways to reduce your cataract risk and can plan a schedule for checkups.