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Subspecialties Cataract, Basic & Translational Research, Health Economics and Policy

Sun, Sea, and Cataracts?

The summer months are a great time to get out in the sun and soak up some rays – but care is needed to reduce the risk of skin cancer and eye diseases. UV radiation exposure is the main cause of sun damage and has been consistently associated with a heightened risk of developing cataracts – commonly cortical cataracts.

One aspect of this association that hasn’t been investigated is whether UV radiation can cause severe cataracts that require surgery. For answers, researchers looked to the land down under – and found that Australians who spent more time outside and found it easier to tan were actually less likely to need cataract surgery (1). The authors suggest that there may be a relationship between melanin and cataract formation and that the results should be interpreted in the context of Australians’ safe sun practices.

The study used data from 137,133 participants between 45 and 65 years old. The research team determined how factors such as how well people tanned following sun exposure and how long they spent outside affected the risk of cataract surgery. Ultimately, the results show that, with proper care, the risk of severe cataracts is low. There’s no need to forgo an active and outdoor lifestyle for fear of cataracts – as long as you take appropriate protective measures such as wearing hats and donning sunglasses on bright days.

Home and Away?

Although this is the largest participant size for a study of its kind, how do the results compare with previous research from within and outside Australia? A previous study of 354 Australian participants found a positive association between sun exposure and nuclear cataract formation – with the highest risk in those exposed to sun at young ages – and found that wearing sunglasses added a level of protection (2). In Spain, another country that is no stranger to the sun, a study looking at 677 participants found no link between years of outdoor exposure and cataract risk, but – again – there was a higher risk of nuclear cataract formation when high levels of sun exposure occurred at younger ages (3). In China, a study of 1,801 participants in areas with different levels of UV intensities found that cumulative exposure to the sun’s UV radiation increased the risk of nuclear cataracts (4).

So there you have it – differing results, but a clear benefit to protecting eyes from the potential sun damage no matter your location.

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  1. X Han et al., Transl Vis Sci Technol, 11, 3 (2022). PMID: 35653147.
  2. RE Neale et al., Epidemiology, 14, 707 (2003). PMID: 14569187.
  3. M Pastor-Valero et al., BMC Ophthalmol, 7, 18 (2007). PMID: 18039367.
  4. H Miyashita et al., PLoS One, 14, e0215338 (2019). PMID: 31022200.
About the Author
Geoffrey Potjewyd

Associate Editor, The Ophthalmologist

The lion’s share of my PhD was spent in the lab, and though I mostly enjoyed it (mostly), what I particularly liked was the opportunity to learn about the latest breakthroughs in research. Communicating science to a wider audience allows me to scratch that itch without working all week only to find my stem cell culture has given up the ghost on the Friday (I’m not bitter). Fortunately for me, it turns out writing is actually fun – so by working for Texere I get to do it every day, whilst still being an active member of the clinical and research community.

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