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Allergy Medicine Linked to Cataracts

Q. I am 55 and have been taking fluticasone nasal spray year round for allergies since about ten years ago. (I live in California and something is always blooming.)

I was having vision problems recently, and the ophthalmologist I saw discovered I have a posterior subcapsular cataract. That is the least common kind of cataract but it affects vision the most.

The doctor kept asking if I’d taken steroids or had trauma to my eye. I didn’t think so until I recalled that fluticasone is a corticosteroid. As I am generally healthy, I was shocked that I had a cataract. This type of cataract is most commonly caused by corticosteroids or injury or irradiation to the eye for a tumor.

I have to conclude the Flonase was responsible. I will ask my internal medicine doctor to help me get off it. I’m not convinced the allergy relief was really worth this risk.

A. Doctors have been debating how much nasal steroid sprays contribute to posterior subcapsular cataracts. Early placebo-controlled trials were reassuring, but there have been some reports of cases similar to yours, in which relatively young healthy people developed these cataracts after years of nasal steroid use (Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, Aug., 2011).

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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