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Science / Medicine : Cataracts Linked to Smoking

September 11, 1989|From staff and wire reports

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute have found that men who quit smoking 10 or more years ago have half the risk of smokers of developing the most common type of cataracts, a condition in which the lens of the eye becomes cloudy and later opaque when proteins inside the cells of the eye's lens undergo structural change. By age 70, most people have some evidence of nuclear cataracts, which form in the center of the lens.

"The mechanism by which smoking might damage the lens nucleus is unclear," said Dr. Sheila K. West, the study's principal investigator. "Among the possibilities is the damage from toxic byproducts in cigarette smoke. The reduced cataract risk among the men who stopped smoking suggests that damage to the lens may be reversible."

In the past, cataracts have been related solely to aging, and most ophthalmologists believed that nothing could be done to alter the cataract's course.

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