Objective: To examine the association between cigarette smoking and the incidence of cataract.
Design, setting, and participants: The design was a prospective cohort study using data from the Physicians' Health Study, a randomized trial of aspirin and beta carotene among 22,071 US male physicians aged 40 to 84 years that began in 1982. This analysis includes the 17,824 physicians who did not report cataract at baseline and did provide complete risk factor information. Based on information reported at baseline, 10% were current smokers, 39% were past smokers, and 51% were never smokers.
Main outcome measure: An incident cataract was defined as a self-report confirmed by medical record review to have been first diagnosed after randomization, age-related in origin, and responsible for a decrease in best corrected visual acuity to 20/30 or worse.
Main results: During 60 months of follow-up, 557 incident cataracts among 371 participants were confirmed. Compared with never smokers, current smokers of 20 or more cigarettes per day had a statistically significant increase in the risk of cataract (relative risk [RR], 2.16; 95% confidence interval [Cl], 1.46 to 3.20; P less than .001). Similar results were obtained after simultaneously controlling for other potential cataract risk factors in a logistic regression model (RR, 2.05; 95% Cl, 1.38 to 3.05; P less than .001). Among the 557 eyes with cataract, nuclear sclerotic changes were present in 442 while posterior subcapsular changes were present in 204. After controlling for other potential cataract risk factors, current smokers of 20 or more cigarettes per day had statistically significant increases in nuclear sclerosis (RR, 2.24; 95% Cl, 1.47 to 3.41; P less than .001) and posterior subcapsular (RR, 3.17; 95% Cl, 1.81 to 5.53; P less than .001) cataract. Past smokers had an elevated risk of posterior subcapsular (RR, 1.44; 95% Cl, 0.97 to 2.13; P = .07) but not nuclear sclerosis cataract. For current smokers of fewer than 20 cigarettes per day, no increased risks were observed of total, nuclear sclerosis, or posterior subcapsular cataract.
Conclusions: These data provide support for the hypothesis that cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing both nuclear sclerosis and posterior subcapsular cataract.