Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of legal blindness in the United States in persons 50 and older. It is a progressive degeneration of the macula, or the central retina. While the exact cause(s) are not completely understood, there is a definite genetic, or hereditary component. Those with with a family history of macular degeneration, such as a parent or sibling with AMD, are 3-4 times more likely to develop the condition in their lifetime.
While there is no cure for AMD, there is some positive news. There are several behaviors or actions we can take to protect our eyes from the effects of AMD, help to slow the progression of the disease, or decrease the severity of the disease. In addition, several treatments are available, and more are being developed.
Cigarette smoking is considered the #1 modifiable risk factor associated with AMD. In general, smokers are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop AMD.
Cigarette smoke contains oxidants, compounds that travel to the eye and cause damage to cells in the macula. Some studies indicate that those with a genetic predisposition to AMD who smoke are 20x more likely to develop AMD.
Smoking also narrows blood vessels, which can affect blood flow to the eye. This can make the macula more susceptible to damage. As eyecare providers, our first recommendation to ANY patient with a family history of macular degeneration, or evidence of AMD, is to stop smoking cigarettes.
Nutrition and Diet
The Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) almost 20 years ago provided evidence that certain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants — vitamins C and E, plus copper, lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc — can reduce the risk by about 25 percent that AMD will progress. We get these by eating antioxidant-rich foods such as dark green, leafy vegetables (spinach, kale), broccoli, carrots, and fresh fruits. Omega-3 fatty acids (from fish and nuts) are thought to have an antioxidant, positive effect on macular health. Alternatively, several multi-vitamin supplements are available in health sections of stores, which are specifically formulated for AMD prevention.
An overall healthy diet, with fewer processed foods, is also associated with less obesity and hypertension, which are both associated with AMD progression.
You can perform a simple, yet sensitive test at home … the Amsler grid. Perhaps your doctor has provided one, or you can easily download and print a copy at https://www.macular.org/amsler-chart.
Just follow the directions, and remember to test one eye at a time. The grid is designed to detect small changes in our central vision, specifically the type of distortion produced by macular degeneration.
Regular Eye Examinations
Finally, routine eye examinations are critical to
- Earlier detection of disease, and
- To monitor any progression
The eye doctor can generally see signs, during a regular dilated eye exam, of early macular degeneration prior to the patient reporting any visual symptoms. Additionally, newer testing and imaging devices in our offices can detect other early signs and markers of disease.
Early detection leads to more effective monitoring of progression, earlier intervention, and more timely treatment of high risk individuals. Much of the vision loss associated with AMD is permanent and irreversible; therefore, it is key that patients be monitored regularly, and treatment started early in the disease process.
Have You Noticed Changes in Your Vision?
If you notice changes in your vision, don’t hesitate to contact the Houston ophthalmologists at Berkeley Eye Center. For more than 60 years, we have been dedicated to protecting and preserving the vision of Texans. We have 21 convenient Houston locations that provide a complete range of services, from diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases to regular eye examinations, LASIK surgery, and custom eyewear and contact lenses.