Age-related macular degeneration is a serious condition that can threaten your vision and general well-being. Characterized by the deterioration of the central area of the retina called the macula which is responsible for focused vision, the disease gradually reduces your central vision. This affects the ability to see fine details, recognize faces, read, drive, watch television and even use a computer. The disease often leaves some vision resulting in a condition called low vision, which is considered a form of legal blindness.
AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in the older population and the numbers are expected to increase as Americans and Canadians continue to live longer.
What causes AMD and how can it be prevented?
As you can see by the name, the primary risk factor of AMD is age, particularly over age 50. Caucasian women are the most common demographic to be hit with this ocular disease, however African Americans and Hispanic and Asian women are not excluded; family medical history and having lighter colored hair, skin and eyes play a large role as well. However, several lifestyle factors have been shown to cause an increase in AMD development; so there may be ways to reduce your risk, even if you have a genetic predisposition.
In fact, most of the controllable risk factors pose general health risks that cause a plethora of health issues, so addressing them will boost your overall health and wellness, in addition to protecting your eyes and vision from AMD. Here are 6 ways to prevent AMD and the vision loss that accompanies it:
1. Stop Smoking
Smoking, and even living with a smoker, have been shown to significantly increase your risks of developing AMD to between 2-5 times the risk of non-smokers! If you also have a hereditary risk, smoking compounds that risk tremendously.
2. Get Active
Studies show that obesity and a sedentary lifestyle increase the risk of advanced macular degeneration that leads to significant vision loss. Maintaining a healthy weight and being active can reduce your risk. That could be as easy as regular walking, at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes.
3. Control Blood Pressure
Since the eye contains many tiny blood vessels, high blood pressure can have a serious impact on the health of your eyes. Have your blood pressure checked by your doctor and follow any medical advice you are given to reduce high blood pressure, whether that includes diet, exercise or medication.
4. Choose a Healthy Diet
A diet rich in antioxidants has been shown to protect against AMD. Antioxidants can be found in abundance in dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale and collard greens, as well as orange fruits and vegetables such as peppers, oranges, mango and cantaloupe. Eating a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables, 5-9 servings a day, as well as fish, which contain Omega-3, and avoiding sugar and processed foods will help to keep your body healthy in many ways, including reducing your risk of AMD.
5. Use UV and Blue Light Protection
Long-term exposure to UV rays from the sun and blue light (from digital devices among other things) have been linked to AMD. Make sure you wear sunglasses every time you are exposed to sunlight and wear blue light blocking glasses when you are viewing a digital device or computer for extended periods of time.
6. Take Supplements*
Certain nutritional supplements have been shown to slow the progression of AMD and the vision loss that accompanies it. This formula of supplements was developed from a 10 year study of 3,500 people with AMD called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and its successor AREDS2. It is not recommended to take supplementation as a preventative measure but rather only if you are diagnosed with intermediate or advanced AMD.
*Speak to your eye doctor before you make a decision about this option.
During your yearly comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor will screen for early signs of AMD and recommend treatment if it’s detected. If you're at greater risk - because of your age or a family history of AMD / blindness of unknown cause, for example - additional testing may be necessary.
AMD can be a devastating disease. If you are aware that you are at risk, it is worthwhile to do everything you can to prevent it and the vision loss that it can bring. Take the time to understand AMD and do what it takes to lower your chances of knowing its effects first-hand.