Taking care of your eye health may help you minimize the risk of developing cataracts as you age, or delay when they appear. Learn more about six preventive steps you can take.

Cataracts are cloudy areas that form over the lens of your eye. Your lens is the clear, curved structure in the front of your eye that helps you focus at different distances.

Age is one of the top risk factors for developing cataracts. According to the National Eye Institute, more than half of Americans who are 80 years or older have cataracts or have had cataract surgery.

Experts predict that the number of people in the U.S. with cataracts may reach more than 50 million by the year 2050, largely due to the aging population.

Taking care of your eye health may help you minimize the risk of developing cataracts as you age or delay when they appear. This article shares six steps you can take to reduce your risk of cataracts.

You can’t completely prevent cataracts from developing. After all, your genetics and age can heavily influence their development. However, there are preventive steps you can take to lower your risk or delay the onset of cataracts.

Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can cause damage to your eyes, which leads to the development of cataracts. At a microscopic level, UV light induces oxidative damage. When this happens, damaging molecules called free radicals can disrupt the proteins in your lens and cause them to clump together.

According to a 2020 study, the risk of developing cataracts can increase with higher levels of lifetime sun exposure.

Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim while you’re out in the sun can help minimize the amount of damaging UV light that reaches your eyes. For the best protection, wear sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection from UVA and UVB rays.

Chemicals in cigarette smoke can have a negative effect on many parts of your body, including your eyes. People who smoke have a two to three times higher risk of developing cataracts than nonsmokers.

Smoking is also linked to another type of eye damage called age-related macular degeneration.

If you currently smoke, quitting may help lower your risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Learn more about quitting smoking.

Eating a nutritious diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and minimally processed foods may help reduce your risk of developing cataracts.

According to a 2019 research review, nutrients in food tend to be more effective at preventing cataracts than nutritional supplements.

Eating a balanced diet seems to be the best way to prevent cataracts, but a small to moderate dose of some antioxidants may also be beneficial. Antioxidants are molecules, like vitamin C and vitamin E, that have the ability to fight free radicals, which can harm healthy cells.

Researchers have found mixed results, but the consensus is that a diet high in the following is associated with the lowest rates of cataracts:

Maintaining a moderate weight and eating a balanced diet that doesn’t include a lot of sugary foods may help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is associated with up to a five times greater risk of developing cataracts.

Learn more about what a balanced diet means.

Injury to your eye is another risk factor for cataracts. Wearing proper safety eyewear during sports and other activities can protect your eyes from injury and reduce the risk of cataracts.

You can help protect your eyes by wearing:

  • a helmet with a face mask during contact sports
  • safety goggles when handling chemicals, using a device that shoots projectiles, or when around flying debris
  • appropriate safety eyewear when operating power tools, industrial equipment, or even a hammer

You can also protect your eyes by taking precautions when opening bottles with corks and avoiding handling, igniting, or standing close to fireworks.

Minimizing your alcohol consumption may help reduce your risk of developing cataracts.

In a 2022 study, researchers determined that higher lifetime drinking was associated with an increased cataract risk, with a significant risk occurring at more than 90 drinks per year in men and 40 drinks per year in women.

Cataracts and other eye diseases may not have noticeable symptoms in the early stages. To protect the health of your eyes, it’s important to get your eyes checked on a regular basis, especially as you get older.

If eye diseases are caught early, it lowers the risk of more serious complications that could affect your vision in the future.

How often do you need an eye exam?

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a comprehensive eye exam as follows for adults 40 years and older who are at a low risk of eye disease, including an exam every:

  • 2 to 4 years for people ages 40 to 54
  • 1 to 3 years for people ages 55 to 64
  • 1 to 2 years for people 65 years and older

Experts recommend that people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes get an eye checkup once a year, regardless of age.

If you’re at a higher risk of developing eye disease or cataracts based on your personal medical history, family history, or race, you may need more regular eye checkups, even if you don’t have symptoms.

Was this helpful?

You may not be able to completely prevent cataracts, but there are steps you can take to lower your risk or delay the onset of cataracts.

Eating a balanced diet, protecting your eyes from the sun, quitting smoking and minimizing alcohol consumption are some preventive steps that may help reduce your risk of cataracts and protect your overall eye health.

If you’re concerned about cataracts, talk with your eye doctor about other preventive steps that may help you minimize the onset of cataracts.