Effect of ultraviolet radiation on cataract formation

N Engl J Med. 1988 Dec 1;319(22):1429-33. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198812013192201.


To investigate the relation of ultraviolet radiation and cataract formation, we undertook an epidemiologic survey of 838 watermen (mean age, 53 years) who worked on Chesapeake Bay. The annual ocular exposure was calculated from the age of 16 for each waterman by combining a detailed occupational history with laboratory and field measurements of sun exposure. Cataracts were graded by ophthalmologic examination for both type and severity. Some degree of cortical cataract was found in 111 of the watermen (13 percent), and some degree of nuclear cataract in 229 (27 percent). Logistic regression analysis showed that high cumulative levels of ultraviolet B exposure significantly increased the risk of cortical cataract (regression coefficient, 0.70; P = 0.04). A doubling of cumulative exposure increased the risk of cortical cataract by a factor of 1.60 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.01 to 2.64). Those whose annual average exposure was in the upper quartile had a risk increased by 3.30 (confidence interval, 0.90 to 9.97) as compared with those in the lowest quartile. Analysis using a serially additive expected-dose model showed that watermen with cortical lens opacities had a 21 percent higher average annual exposure to ultraviolet B (t-test, 2.23; P = 0.03). No association was found between nuclear cataracts and ultraviolet B exposure or between cataracts and ultraviolet A exposure. We conclude that there is an association between exposure to ultraviolet B radiation and cataract formation, which supports the need for ocular protection from ultraviolet B.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cataract / epidemiology
  • Cataract / etiology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Eye / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maryland
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*