Women in India who use wood, kerosene, or dried dung as fuel to cook their food are 50 percent more likely to develop cataracts compared to those who use gas and other cleaner fuels, a new study says.
A cataract occurs when the lens of the eye develops clouding, which makes it difficult for afflicted individuals to see clearly. Symptoms of the condition include having a hard time seeing bright lights or seeing at night, seeing only faded colors or halos around lights.
While cataracts commonly occur in aging individuals, it can also be caused by trauma, exposure to radiation, or developing eye problems following surgery.
In a study featured in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, an international team of researchers from India and the United Kingdom examined the impacts of using biomass fuels, particularly for cooking.
The team interviewed 6,000 individuals in India, aged 60 years or older, who used biomass fuels for cooking throughout their adult lives for different lifestyle and socioeconomic reasons.
After considering various health factors in the participants, such as their level of nutrition, their exposure to sunlight and their chewing or smoking of tobacco, the scientists found that women who used biomass fuels to cook experienced a 46 percent higher likelihood to develop nuclear cataracts than those who preferred to cook with gas.
They also discovered that the likelihood to develop cataracts seemingly increases the longer the women used the biomass fuels to cook throughout their lifetime. Women who have used the fuels for 20 years were 50 percent more likely to have cataracts, while those who used them for 30 years were 90 percent more likely to develop the eye condition.
Astrid Fletcher, a professor from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in the UK and one of the authors of the study, said that their findings provide the strongest evidence to date of a link between using biomass fuels and the development of cataracts.
She explained that the association was seen in women because they are the ones who mostly do all the cooking using stoves that don't have chimneys. This left them to be more exposed to direct smoke produced by the burning of biomass fuels.
Fletcher added that they also saw a higher likelihood to develop cataracts in women who used kerosene for cooking as well.
Many people in India, especially those in poorer communities, use biomass fuels because they are easily accessible and more affordable compared to gas.
Photo: Nicu Buculei | Flickr