Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a fairly common eye condition, particularly for the aging population. In fact, it is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in older adults. More than 10 million Americans have this disease, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation.
It is a disease that affects the retina and causes blurring of your central vision. The blurring happens due to the damage to the macula, which otherwise helps you see the fine detail in things that your eyes are focusing on.
What causes AMD is still not confirmed, but certain factors may increase your risk of developing it. Some of these risk factors are outside your control, such as aging, a family history of AMD, being a female, belonging to the Caucasian race, and having light-colored eyes.
Key risk factors within your control include excessive smoking, prolonged sun exposure, obesity, an inactive lifestyle, high blood pressure, and eating a diet rich in fat, cholesterol, and high glycemic index foods.
There are two types of macular degeneration – dry and wet. While the dry form is the most common, the wet form happens more quickly and is more severe.
The symptoms of dry macular degeneration are a distortion of straight lines in your field of vision, a reduction in central vision, a need for brighter lighting, difficulty adapting to low lights, blurriness, and trouble recognizing faces.
On the other hand, the symptoms of wet macular degeneration are visual distortions, reduced central vision, a blurry spot in your field of vision, and hazy vision. These symptoms typically get worse rapidly.
Macular degeneration can occur in just one eye or both eyes, but it doesn’t cause total blindness because it doesn’t affect your peripheral vision.
Macular degeneration is a progressive disease, but there are many steps you can take to prevent macular degeneration and slow the development of AMD.
Here are some of the top ways to prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
1. Exercise Regularly
The benefits of exercise are many, including reducing your risk of developing AMD. If you do not exercise, fatty plaque deposits can occur in the macular vessels. This can hamper blood flow and increase the risk of AMD.
A 2006 study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology shows a protective effect of physical activity against AMD, independent of body mass index and other confounders.
A 2016 study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology reports that past frequent vigorous exercise may be inversely related to the presence of intermediate AMD in women. Yet, researchers noted that further studies are needed to confirm whether physical activity and exercise have a protective effect against AMD.
A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology reports that physical activity is associated with lower odds of early and late AMD in white populations. Researchers stressed the importance of staying active throughout life.
2. Do Not Smoke
If you are a smoker, it is time to quit. Smoking is a major risk factor for developing macular degeneration. In fact, smoking is the most important modifiable risk factor for AMD development and progression.
Cigarette smoke contains toxic chemicals that get absorbed in the body through the lungs. Some of these chemicals are oxidants, which can damage the retina when they travel through the bloodstream.
A 2005 literature review published in Eye confirmed a strong association between current smoking and AMD development, as cigarette smoking is likely to have toxic effects on the retina.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Ophthalmology reports that smoking induces damage to the chorioretinal tissues. The study stresses advising patients to quit smoking for their visual health.
To quit smoking, get help from family and friends as well as experts.
3. Drink Sensibly
Although smoking is the greatest known lifestyle factor contributing to AMD development, drinking in excess is also bad for your eyes.
Alcohol is toxic and easily damages the optic nerve, which can cause distorted, blurry vision during the early stages of intoxication. But over time, intoxication can cause long-term issues, such as early onset of AMD.
Also, toxins from alcohol in the bloodstream reduce the flow of nutrients to the nerves and macula.
A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology reports that alcohol consumption is unlikely to strongly increase (or decrease) the risk of AMD.
A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that drinking more than 20 g (less than 1 ounce) of alcohol per day was associated with an approximate 20 percent increase in the odds of early AMD when compared with those who reported no alcohol intake at baseline. This positive association was apparent for wine, beer, and spirits.
So, if you drink, do it in moderation and avoid excess intake.
4. Protect Your Eyes from UV Rays
It is a well-known fact that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can cause skin damage, but such exposure can also increase the risk of macular degeneration and other eye conditions.
Staring at bright rays of the sun, even for a few minutes, can cause permanent damage to the retina. This is why eye experts recommend wearing sunglasses and a hat to protect your eyes from potentially harmful bright sunlight.
A 2011 study published in Eye & Contact Lens found that UV radiation is a risk factor for cataract formation and macular degeneration. The study also points out that people over 50 years old should remove harmful wavelengths of UV light with specially designed sunglasses or contact lenses to reduce the risk of AMD.
So, do not stare directly into the sun, especially during peak times of the day when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Also, if you work on a computer for hours or use electronic devices often, it’s important to give your eyes a rest every 20 minutes to reduce eye strain.
5. Keep Your Blood Pressure Under Control
High blood pressure is one of the risk factors for developing wet AMD. High blood pressure can lead to a constriction, or narrowing, of the blood vessels that nourish the retina. This means fewer nutrients will reach the eyes, which will negatively affect their health.
A 2000 study published in Ophthalmology analyzed several risk factors associated with AMD and found that prevention of hypertension may reduce the risk of developing AMD.
A 2014 study also published in Ophthalmology reports that there may be a connection between taking blood pressure-lowering medications, including vasodilators, and developing early-stage AMD.
So, it is better to maintain healthy blood pressure levels to limit your risk of developing macular degeneration.
6. Eat Healthy
A healthy diet is very important to reduce your risk of macular degeneration.
First of all, you need to include plenty of dark, leafy greens – especially raw spinach, kale, and collard greens – in your diet. This will help you get carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) that are important for overall vision health.
Also, eat lots of fruit and nuts to get necessary vitamins like A, C, and E in your diet.
Eating fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines regularly can also help prevent macular degeneration. They are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation in the body.
If needed, you can take vitamins and minerals in supplement form, but always consult your doctor first.
7. Eat Less Refined Carbohydrates
When focusing on a healthy diet to reduce your risk of AMD, you must consider reducing or cutting out refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pretzels, and sugar-laced baked goods.
According to a 2004 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, refined carbohydrates can significantly increase your risk of developing macular degeneration.
Refined carbohydrates should be replaced with low glycemic index foods, which include brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and multigrain bread. Low glycemic index foods are richer in a variety of nutritive and nonnutritive antioxidants.
8. Get Regular Eye Checkups
Getting your eyes regularly checked by your doctor will help detect the earliest signs of macular degeneration before the condition reaches an advanced state.
Always remember that early diagnosis and treatment may help control progression of the disease, and stabilize or even restore some vision.
It is very important to have an eye examination once a year if you’re between the ages of 45 and 60 when macular degeneration commonly emerges. But if you have any risk factors associated with AMD, get your eyes checked every six months.