Know the Causes of Cataracts and their Risk Factors

Shilpi Jain
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causes of cataracts

A Cataract is the leading cause of blindness in the world today. 

It affects 94 million people worldwide and primarily those over 60. 

A Cataract occurs when the fibers in the eye lens become hardened as you age.

This hardening fiber leads to opacification of the lens leading to complete blindness in the later stage.

The cause of Cataracts leads to protein breakdown and lumping in the lens.

When you know about the causes, prevention or an early diagnosis and treatment is possible. 

The article discusses the causes of cataracts and the risk factors that make you prone to developing the condition.

Causes of Cataracts

The protein breakdown in the lens accumulates as lumps that take on a yellow or brown color. 

This affects the lens’s transparency and refracts the entering light into the eye. 

Protein breakdown causes are many, ranging from oxidants to diuretics and steroids. 

Following are the possible underlying causes of Cataract,

cataract symptomsSource: geckophotos_from_Getty_Images
cataract symptoms

Oxidant overproduction

Oxidants are molecules in the body that interact with protein or DNA in your body to cause inflammation or disease. 

The overproduction of these oxidants leads to oxidative stress that can result in cataracts. 

The oxidative stress in the eye lens decreases the solubility of the protein in the lens. 

This leads to opacity in the lens, causing the various symptoms of cataracts.

Did you know?
Oxidative stress is the most common cause of cataracts.

Hence, people are often prescribed Anti-oxidants to prevent opacification of the lens.

Overuse of Steroids

Prolonged use of steroids has been linked to cataract development in people over 60. 

The steroid-induced Cataract is caused when they bind to lens proteins. 

It leads to the destabilization of the protein resulting in oxidative damage in the eye lens. 

People taking steroids in their daily medicinal dose should consult their doctor if they experience cataract symptoms.


Studies have shown that users of potassium-sparing diuretics have a higher risk of developing cataracts. 

Diuretics are photosensitizers that absorb more than the required amount of UV rays. 

The rays are concentrated in the retina, which causes its damage. 

The damage causes lens protein breakdown.

The protein accumulates and causes cloudiness in the vision leading to cataracts. 


Diabetes Mellitus patients are often at risk of developing cataracts.

The eye’s lens gets oxygen and glucose from the fluid that fills the front of the eye. 

In someone with Diabetes – the sugar levels can rise, causing the lens to swell. 

This, in turn, can change your glasses prescription. 

Additionally, the lens has an enzyme that converts glucose into sorbitol. 

Sorbitol collecting in the lens can affect cells and other proteins, making the lens more opaque.

Ultraviolet Radiation

Ultraviolet Radiation can also contribute to cataracts. 

A study shows that UV light damages lens proteins and leads to oxidative stress. 

It substitutes for oxygen to trigger harmful oxidative reactions in the lens causing protein breakdown and clumping.

This leads to the accumulation of protein clumps in the lens, causing yellowing of the vision and ultimately leading to cataracts.


Smoking increases the number of free radicals in your eyes. 

Free radicals are responsible for damaging the lipids and proteins in the eyes.

They cause deposits on the eye’s lens’s surface, leading to Cataract development.

Risks factors of Cataracts

Floaters After Cataract SurgerySource: akaratwimages
Cataract Surgery

Along with causes, certain risk factors make you prone to develop cataracts.

These risk factors may or may not contribute to cataracts but increase their chances of developing.

Older age

Cataracts are commonly associated with older age.

Such age-related Cataracts are called Senile Cataracts.

They happen because of regular changes in your eyes as you get older. 

The eye lens becomes less flexible, transparent, and thicker with age. 

In older adults, proteins and fibers within the lenses break down and clump together.

It clouds the lenses, which grow denser as the Cataract develops. 

Heavy alcohol use

Heavy alcohol consumption has been shown to increase the risk of age-related cataracts. 

It causes more calcium to enter the lens while limiting its removal ability. 

The higher calcium levels in eye lenses may lead to cataract formation.

Family history of the disorder

Studies have reported hereditary Cataracts in 8.3%- 25% of congenital Cataracts. 

The Cataracts present since birth are known as Congenital Cataracts

It may result from hereditary problems in the eye lens. 

The lens opacities can be due to other ocular anomalies like Microphthalmia, Aniridia. 

Previous eye injuries

Cataract has also been associated with previous eye injuries.

Ocular trauma like an electric shock, chemical burns, or ionizing radiation can lead to Cataracts. 

A traumatic cataract can also develop years after any eye injury.

Sedentary lifestyle

Researchers found that those in the highest quartile of physical activity were 13% less likely to suffer a Cataract.

Lack of physical exercise is linked to the risk of Cataracts, as it is prevalent in Diabetes patients. 

The elevations in blood sugar levels can lead to the risk of Cataracts, and lack of exercise increases the risk of obesity and Diabetes.

High Myopia

Patients with high myopia can develop cataracts earlier than those without refractive errors.

High Myopic patients are about three times more likely to develop cataracts.

They also have shown low chances of treating the disorder through surgery. 


Anterior Uveitis

Cataract development in patients with Uveitis is caused due to uncontrolled and sustained inflammation in the eye. 

It is also linked to prolonged use of high-dose topical, periocular, or systemic steroids in Uveitis patients.


A cataract is a common age-related eye disorder. 

In severe cases, it can lead to complete loss of vision due to opaque in the lens. 

The causes of cataracts can range from oxidative stress to Diabetes and overexposure to the sun. 

Knowing the causes can prevent Cataracts from getting severe and prevent patients from complete blindness. 

Diagnosing the cause also helps doctors plan the proper treatment regimen. 

Hence, if you experience cataract symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

Recommeded Article:
Check out, Cataract Treatment Options: A Guide to Clear Vision to learn about the treatments of Cataract .

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes Cataracts in humans?

The causes of Cataracts include oxidative stress and conditions such as Diabetes, Uveitis. Irregulated steroid use, overexposure to UV radiation, and smoking can also cause cataracts in humans.

What foods cause Cataracts?

High consumption of sugar, high-fat and cholesterol-containing foods can lead to Cataracts. People with an unhealthy diet and an inactive lifestyle are at a higher risk of developing cataracts later in their lives.

What is the biggest cause of Cataracts?

The most common cause of cataracts is aging or trauma to the eye. With the lens, proteins loosen, and breakdowns occur in clumps. It can result in the opacification of the lens. Trauma or injuries to the eye can also cause Cataracts.

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