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Q: My parents had cataracts. What causes cataracts and is there anything I can do to prevent them?

A: Age is the most important factor in developing cataracts. We will all get cataracts if we are fortunate enough to live that long. Of course some people get them earlier in life, and there are same factors that promote earlier cataracts.

Clearly eye trauma, diabetes, and steroid use (glucocorticoids like prednisone) are factors and are to some extent modifiable. You can't un-injure your eye, but you can wear eye protection. Diabetes in this country is mostly Type 2, which is often related to obesity and therefore is largely preventable with good diet and exercise. If you already have diabetes, be sure to manage it closely to limit tissue damage. Steroid use is typically under the care of a physician and is done for a reason, so that's a tougher one. It is still worth thinking about though because it seems that the more steroids a person receives in a lifetime, the more likely they are to develop cataracts. Perhaps there is a different drug that might be better for you if you are taking a lot of steroids. It's ok to ask your doctor about that.

Smoking also seems to contribute to cataract, but frankly if you smoke there are more significant reasons to quit, such as the hugely increased risk for cancer, heart disease and stroke. Ultraviolet light, similarly, may contribute to cataracts, but it seems to be a relatively minor player. The key with ultraviolet light is moderation. It can also cause skin cancers (and even eyeball cancers), including melanoma, which can be deadly.

Hall T. McGee, M.D.

Hall T. McGee, M.D., Everett & Hurite Ophthalmic Association, can be reached at (412) 288-0885 or mcgeeh@gmail.com

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