Cataract Risk Factors

A cataract means the lens of the eye is cloudy. A normal lens is clear. The lens is a structure inside the eye that focuses light. It is important for normal vision. Clouding can range from a tiny dot to complete cloudiness. A cataract can only be removed with surgery.

There are certain risk factors that make you more likely to develop cataracts. These risk factors are not necessarily the cause of cataracts.



  • Age is the main risk factor. Cataracts may develop earlier in some people than others.

  • Age-related cataracts can affect both eyes. However, the eyes may not be affected at the same time.


  • An eye injury may be blunt or penetrating. Penetrating injuries often form a cataract right away. Other injuries may cause a cataract to form over hours, weeks, months, or years.

  • Only the injured eye develops a cataract.

Inherited Diseases

  • Cataracts related to inherited diseases may appear as early as birth or later in life.

  • Disease-related cataracts can affect both eyes.

Eye Surgery

  • Non-cataract eye surgery can increase your risk for cataracts. This includes retinal or vitreous eye surgery.

  • Only the eye that was operated on is affected.


  • Diabetes greatly increases the risk for cataracts. Cataracts may develop earlier in life. Careful control of diabetes is the best way to manage this risk factor.

  • Diabetes-related cataracts affect both eyes.

Family History of Cataracts

  • Cataracts related to family history can affect both eyes.

Race and Ethnicity

  • Certain racial or ethnic groups are at greater risk for cataracts.

  • Cataracts related to race and ethnicity affect both eyes.

Medical Conditions and Nutritional Deficiencies

  • Risk factors for cataracts include certain diseases of the skin and viral infections. They also include disorders and syndromes present at birth (congenital) and vitamin deficiencies. Some conditions develop on their own (acquired). Other conditions are passed from parent to child (inherited).

  • Cataracts related to medical conditions or deficiencies affect both eyes.

Smoking and Alcohol Use

  • Cataracts related to alcohol and tobacco use affect both eyes.


  • Some drugs may increase your risk for cataracts. This includes certain hormone replacement drugs.

  • Drug-related cataracts affect both eyes.

Environmental Factors

  • Cataracts related to factors in your environment affect both eyes.

Exposure to Sunlight or Certain Light Wavelengths

  • Unprotected exposure to sunlight can lead to cataracts. It is important to protect your eyes from prolonged sunlight. Wear polarized and ultraviolet blocking lenses.

  • People who work around ultraviolet rays, such as welders and glass blowers, may be at risk for cataracts. Protective lenses and goggles are required.

  • Light-related cataracts affect both eyes.

Exposure to Radiation

  • People exposed to large amounts of radiation have a very high risk for cataracts. This can occur from industrial or nuclear plant accidents.

  • Radiation-related cataracts affect both eyes. 

Exposure to Lead or Toxic Substances

  • Cataracts related to lead or toxic substances affect both eyes.


  • Some eye diseases increase your risk for cataracts. This includes lasting (chronic) or sudden (acute) glaucoma. The risk is higher in the eye that has the problem.

  • Using certain eyedrops may increase your risk for cataracts.