Shedding Light on Cataracts

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The long, hot days of summer are nearly here, and chances are, you're spending more time in the sun. But are you properly equipped? In addition to sunscreen, make sure you've got sunglasses on hand to protect your eyes from the sun's radiation. According to a recent study, exposure to sunlight increases the risk of cataract formation.

Researchers studied 2,500 residents of sunny southern France to determine whether exposure to ambient solar radiation is associated with cataracts. They found that high ambient solar radiation, or high exposure to sunlight, more than doubles the risk of cortical cataracts and increases the risk of mixed cataracts fourfold. Exposure nearly triples the likelihood of undergoing cataract surgery, they found.

Cataracts, cloudings in the transparent lens of the eye, are a leading cause of blindness; they account for 50 percent of blindness worldwide. In the United States, cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgical procedure in people 65 years or older.

"It seems that sunlight exposure throughout a lifetime may be important to cataract formation," the researchers conclude (Archives of Ophthalmology, March 2000). "These results raise the hope that simple preventive strategies, such as avoiding exposure at midday, may reduce the prevalence of cataracts."

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