Risk Factors for Macular Degeneration

Often called Age-Related Macular Degeneration or AMD, macular degeneration is a common eye condition that causes vision loss. AMD causes damage to the macula, which is what lets you see objects that are straight ahead. The macula is a small spot near the retina's center and located at the back of the eye. It's the part of the eye needed for sharp, central vision. When the macula is damaged, the center of your field of vision may appear blurry, distorted, or even dark. AMD is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in people 65 and older.

Unfortunately, the exact cause of AMD is unknown, but there are known risk factors for AMD that you can control, like smoking, eating well, and sun exposure, and others that you cannot, like age and genetics. Take a look at the following risk factors.

Macular Degeneration Is Age Related

Age and a lifetime of environmental exposures produce an increased number of free radicals. These unstable molecules damage the macula if they are not immediately neutralized by antioxidants. The initial damage causes inflammation, which results in more inflammation, and eventually the scarring of the macula and the loss of central vision.

Smoking Tobacco May Cause Blindness

New research shows that just a pack per day can double your chances for developing AMD, according to two studies in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The more people smoke and the longer they smoke are two factors that contribute to the likelihood of developing the most common form of blindness in the elderly. The damage happens when an insulating layer between the retina and the blood vessels breaks down, resulting in fluid leaks and scarring.

Junk Food Can Contribute to Macular Degeneration

In August 2001, in the issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology, a study suggests that junk food and fat-filled snack foods may raise the risk of developing advanced AMD. Vegetable fats (including both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with linoleic acid) create the biggest risks of eye diseases. This includes margarine, some chocolate, commercially prepared pies, cakes, and cookies, peanut butter, potato chips, and French fries. That said, diets high in omega-3 fatty acids and fish were associated with lowering the risk for AMD, when the intake of linoleic acid was low.

Hypertension, High Cholesterol, and Obesity Play a Role

Macular degeneration is associated with substantial vascular changes in the eye. It's believed that the very factors that contribute to hypertension and heart disease might also contribute to macular degeneration. While the reasons why are not absolute, being overweight is associated with developing AMD and with getting severe forms of the condition.

UV Light Aggravates Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Spending too much time in the sun without the benefit of UV-protected dark glasses accelerates the development of cataracts as well as macular degeneration. Too much unprotected time in the sun can also cause a more severe case of AMD.

Lifestyle Makes a Difference

You might be able to lower your risk of developing AMD or slow its progression by making healthy lifestyle choices.

  • • Avoid smoking
  • • Exercise regularly
  • • Wear sunglasses when outside
  • • Exercise to help keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels normal
  • • Avoid packaged, processed foods, especially with artificial fats
  • • Eat a healthy diet rich in green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach which contain lutein. Lutein is a substance that neutralizes free radicals that could damage your macula.
  • • Eat plenty of foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, fish oil, flax seeds, and avocados. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation.

If you believe you have cataracts, early detection is best. To make an appointment, contact us today at New Vision Eye Center.