Repeated exposure to cosmic radiation may cause nuclear cataracts in commercial airplane pilots, says a study in the August Archives of Ophthalmology.

The study included 445 men, 79 of whom were commercial airline pilots and 366 who had never been pilots. Of the participants, 71 had nuclear cataracts. The control subjects had other types of lens opacification or no opacification.

Does cosmic radiation lead to increased risk for nuclear cataract among airline pilots? A new study says it probably does.

Exposure to cosmic radiation was assessed according to the participants employment time as pilots, annual numbers of hours flown, timetables, flight profiles and individual cumulative radiation doses, which were calculated by a software program.

After adjusting for other causes of nuclear cataract, including age, smoking status and sunbathing habits, the researchers determined that pilots are three times more likely to develop nuclear cataracts than non-pilots. Their risk of developing nuclear cataract was caused by cumulative radiation doses, especially before age 40.

Rafnsson V, Olafsdottir E, Hrafnkelsson J, et al. Cosmic radiation increases the risk of nuclear cataract in airplane pilots: a population-based case-control study. Arch Ophthalmol 2005 Aug;123(8):1002-5.

Vol. No: 142:9Issue: 9/15/2005