Alcohol, smoking, and cataracts: the Blue Mountains Eye Study

Arch Ophthalmol. 1997 Oct;115(10):1296-303. doi: 10.1001/archopht.1997.01100160466015.


Objective: To investigate the associations between alcohol consumption, tobacco smoking, and cataract.

Design: A population-based, cross-sectional study.

Setting: An urban community in the Blue Mountains, close to Sydney, Australia.

Participants: Three thousand six hundred fifty-four people aged 49 to 97 years. The participation rate was 82%.

Main outcome measures: Smoking history and details of current alcohol consumption were assessed by questionnaire. Lens photographs were taken and graded for presence and severity of cortical, nuclear, and posterior subcapsular cataracts.

Results: After adjusting for multiple potential confounders, people who had ever smoked cigarettes had a higher prevalence than nonsmokers of more severe nuclear (adjusted odds ratio [OR], 1.3; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.1-1.6) and posterior subcapsular (adjusted OR, 1.5; 95% CI, 1.1-2.1) cataracts. The association between pipe smoking and nuclear cataract (adjusted OR, 3.1; 95% CI, 1.5-8.2) was stronger than the association with cigarette smoking. Alcohol consumption was associated with a reduced prevalence of cortical cataract: compared with people who did not drink, the adjusted OR for cortical cataract among people who drank at least 1 drink a day was 0.7 (95% CI, 0.6-0.9). Heavy alcohol consumption (> or =4 drinks a day) was associated with nuclear cataract in current smokers (adjusted OR compared with nondrinkers, 3.9; 95% CI, 0.9-16.6) but not in never smokers.

Conclusions: Consistent with other studies, smoking was associated with a higher prevalence of nuclear and posterior subcapsular cataracts. The only adverse effect of alcohol was among smokers: people who smoked and drank heavily had an increased prevalence of nuclear cataract.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Cataract / epidemiology
  • Cataract / etiology*
  • Cataract / pathology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lens, Crystalline / drug effects
  • Lens, Crystalline / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Photography
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects*