The People's Perspective on Medicine

Inhaled Asthma Medicine and Risk of Cataracts

Q. I have been using inhaled beclomethasone and Beconase spray for asthma and allergies for three years. Recently an optometrist warned me that he sees cases of cataracts quite often in people using steroids like these.

My pulmonologist says he is not aware of any increased incidence of cataracts among patients on these drugs. The PDR I found in the library states: “There is no information about the possible long-term systemic effects of the agent.” The PDR is a product of the pharmaceutical industry, though, so I would appreciate your overview.

A. You must have found an old PDR (Physicians’ Desk Reference). The current edition cautions, “Rare instances of glaucoma, increased intraocular pressure, and cataracts have been reported following the inhaled administration of corticosteroids.”

Other inhaled corticosteroids such as Advair or Symbicort may also trigger such complications after long-term use. Do not stop your medication without your doctor’s supervision, however. It may be necessary for controlling your asthma.

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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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    I have asthma and have been using inhalants from a young age (starting from 4)… at certain points of my life I was on very heavy doses (>1200mg). BY the time I was 17 or 18 I began to develop cataracts in my left eye.

    I have just turned 51 and need to get cataract surgery. I too have used Beconase for many years for hay fever and rhinitis – always as per the instructions on the box, and not using it continuously year after year (ie. taking breaks). With even cursory research on the Net, this side-effect is not as “rare” as it is stated to be in the official Glaxo-Smith-Kline sources.

    I began taking Beconase in my early 30’s. At 42 I was diagnosed with glaucoma. I am white with no history of the disease in my family.

    I found this question from a reader re. asthma medicines containing steroids and the incidence of cataracts. I was diagnosed in 1994 with asthma and started using Albuterol and Azmacort several times daily. My doctor said I would eventually develop cataracts in 8 to 10 years, but “We can cure cataracts, we can’t cure asthma.” By 2004, after 10 years of this daily regimen (subbing Singular for Azmacort for 2 years), I gave in and scheduled cataract surgery on both eyes.

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