Use of inhaled corticosteroids and the risk of cataracts

N Engl J Med. 1997 Jul 3;337(1):8-14. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199707033370102.


Background: The use of systemic corticosteroids is a risk factor for the development of posterior subcapsular cataracts, but the association between inhaled corticosteroids and cataracts is uncertain.

Methods: We conducted a population-based, cross-sectional study of vision and common eye diseases in an urban area of the Blue Mountains, near Sydney, Australia. We recruited 3654 people 49 to 97 years of age; the participation rate was 82 percent. We collected information by questionnaire on potential risk factors for cataracts, including the current or prior use of inhaled corticosteroids (beclomethasone or budesonide). Photographs of the subjects' lenses were graded, without information on the subjects, to determine the presence and severity of cortical, nuclear, and posterior subcapsular cataracts.

Results: Three hundred seventy subjects reported using inhaled corticosteroids, 164 currently and 206 previously. Among these subjects, after adjustment for age and sex, there was a higher prevalence of nuclear cataracts (relative prevalence, 1.5; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.2 to 1.9) and posterior subcapsular cataracts (relative prevalence, 1.9; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.3 to 2.8) than among the subjects with no inhaled-corticosteroid use, but the prevalence of cortical cataracts was not significantly higher (relative prevalence, 1.1; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.9 to 1.3). Higher cumulative lifetime doses of beclomethasone were associated with higher risks of posterior subcapsular cataracts (P for trend <0.001); the highest prevalence (27 percent) was found in subjects whose lifetime dose was over 2000 mg (relative prevalence, 5.5). Adjusting for the use of systemic corticosteroids and other potential confounders had little effect on the magnitude of the associations. The associations with posterior subcapsular cataracts, but not those with nuclear cataracts, were less marked when the analyses were restricted to subjects who had never used systemic corticosteroids.

Conclusions: The use of inhaled corticosteroids is associated with the development of posterior subcapsular and nuclear cataracts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / adverse effects*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cataract / chemically induced*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones