Most people living in the rural areas burn wood, cow dung and other organic materials for cooking, lighting and heating due to limited access to clean fuel such as LPG.
A study conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi and Aravind Eye Hospital, Tamil Nadu found that prolonged exposure to the biomass fuels increased the risk of cataract.
‘Indian women who cook with biomass fuels were nearly 50 percent more likely to have a nuclear cataract, clouding of the lens in the nucleus leading to visual impairment, than those who use clean fuels such as LPG.’
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye causing a decrease in vision. Clouded vision caused by cataracts can make it more difficult to read or see. The team examined about 6,000 people aged below and above 60 years in both North India and South India.
They found that 46% of women who used biomass fuel had a nuclear cataract, clouding of the lens in the nucleus than the ones who used clean fuel. More women were found to be suffering from cataract than men because cooking was exclusively done by them.
Furthermore, the researchers found that cataracts were more likely with increasing length of time the women had used biomass fuels - from 50 percent more likely for 20 years use rising to 90 percent after 30 years. The study was published in the journal Environmental Health
Astrid Fletcher, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who coordinated the study, said, "Our study provides the strongest evidence yet of an association with adult lifetime exposure to biomass fuels and cataracts. This was only found in women, probably because cooking was almost only done by women using stoves without chimneys, exposing them directly to smoke from burning biomass fuels. Unexpectedly we also found that women who cooked with kerosene were more likely to have cataracts."