How Can I Prevent Cataracts?

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on April 09, 2023

Cataracts are a leading cause of blindness in the United States. There’s no surefire way to prevent them, but making some lifestyle changes might lower your odds of them progressing more rapidly.

You can’t do anything about your age or family history, but you can change your diet.

Some research shows that eating foods high in antioxidants like vitamins C and E may help prevent cataracts. If you already have cataracts, it may slow their growth.

Good sources of vitamin C include:

  • Citrus (oranges, grapefruit, limes, etc.)
  • Tomatoes and tomato juice
  • Red and green peppers
  • Kiwifruit
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cantaloupe
  • Potatoes

For vitamin E, look to vegetable oils like sunflower, safflower, or wheat germ. Nuts, especially almonds, are also good sources of vitamin E. So are peanuts. So are green veggies like spinach and broccoli. Some foods -- maybe even your favorite breakfast cereal -- contain extra vitamin E. Check the info on the package to be sure.

You may not have heard of lutein and zeaxanthin. These are two more vitamins that could help protect your eyes from cataracts. Eggs have them, as do green, leafy vegetables.

Make sure you eat fruits and veggies every day. Five servings can provide more than 100 milligrams of vitamin C and 5 to 6 milligrams of lutein and zeaxanthin. Just two servings of nuts can provide 8 to 14 milligrams of vitamin E. If you find it tough to fit all of this into your daily diet, consider multivitamins or supplements. But always talk to your doctor first.

You know that smoking is bad for your lungs and your heart, but it’s also really bad for your eyes. When it comes to cataracts, smoking is a risk factor you can control.

Smoking creates more free radicals in your eyes. These are chemicals that harm cells. Antioxidants -- all those good chemicals that you get from fruits and vegetables -- fight the bad chemicals. But smoking kills off the good chemicals. And it produces a lot of toxins that can cause cataracts.

If you kick the habit, it may help prevent cataracts, even if you’ve smoked a lot of cigarettes over a long period of time. Talk to your doctor about programs and medications that can help you quit.

If you don’t smoke, don’t start.

Sunglasses can make you look cool. They can also help cut your risk of getting cataracts.

Science shows that ultraviolet (UV) light can cause changes in your eyes. And researchers now know that UV light actually damages the proteins in your lens.

There are lots of options for sunglasses that look good and protect your eyes at the same time. When shopping for shades, look for the kind that:

  • Block out 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays
  • Screen out 75% to 90% of visible light
  • Fit your face shape, with a frame that is close to your eyes
  • Have a gray tint, which is helpful when driving

You don’t have to give up that glass of wine with dinner. But there is some evidence that drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk for cataracts.

Research has shown that if you drink fewer than two standard-size drinks each day, your odds of getting cataracts may be lower than if you never drank at all. But research also shows that drinking more than two drinks a day (about 20 grams of alcohol), raises those odds.

If you have diabetes, you know how important it is to keep your blood sugar under control. But did you know that it can also help prevent cataracts? That’s because people who have diabetes are more likely to develop the eye condition than people who don’t.

Your lens swells if your blood sugar stays too high for too long. Your lens also changes blood sugar into sorbitol. When this substance collects in the lens of your eye, you see less clearly, and a cataract may form.

Your eye doctor can spot problems early on. If you’re between 40 and 64, you should get a complete eye exam every 2 to 4 years. (A “complete” exam means your eye doctor will dilate your pupils).

If you’re over age 65, you should get an exam every 1 to 2 years.

If your odds are high for certain eye diseases, your eye doctor may want to see you more often.

Show Sources

SOURCES: “Cataract.”

American Optometric Association: “Nutrition and Cataracts.”

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: “Vitamin C,” Fact Sheet for Professionals

American Optometric Association: “Lutein & Zeaxanthin.”

CDC: “Vision Loss, Blindness and Smoking.”

JAMA Ophthalmology: “Smoking Cessation and the Risk of Cataract.”

National Cancer Institute: “Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention.”

American Optometric Association: “Research Shines Light on the UV-Cataract Connection.”

American Optometric Association: “Do Your Sunglasses Really Protect Your Eyes from the Sun?”

Harvard Health Publications: “What to do about cataract.”

Optometry and Vision Science: “Different amounts of alcohol consumption and cataract: a meta-analysis.”

National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “What is a Standard Drink?”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Diabetes and Cataracts.” “How Often Should I Have An Eye Exam?”

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