February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Awareness Month. Unless you have a family member with AMD, you may not know much about it. Here I’ll give you a brief overview of this ocular disease and then you’ll learn more about how you can protect your eyes and lower your risk for developing this devastating eye condition.
What is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a breakdown of the cells in the macula, which is the area of the retina that provides your central vision. This can cause progressive vision loss centrally, making it difficult to read, see faces, and do other tasks that require fine detail. The exact cause of AMD is unknown; however, it is linked to aging and genetics.
Who is at risk?
Since AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in people over 50, it is important to understand your risk level. The strongest risk factors are age, family history, smoking, lighter eye color, high blood pressure, and obesity. There is also a higher incidence in whites and females. It is possible to reduce your risk level by controlling your blood pressure, losing weight, and quitting smoking. If you figure out how to stop aging, let me know!
Can AMD be treated?
There are two main forms of macular degeneration, wet and dry. Because these forms affect the retina differently, the treatment options vary.
Dry macular degeneration is primarily treated with specific vitamins since no FDA-approved treatments exist. Extensive studies (AREDS and AREDS2) have been done to evaluate which vitamin formulations work best to slow the progression.
Wet macular degeneration involves the growth of leaky blood vessels under the retina. Treatments are aimed at preventing the growth of these vessels, usually done with intraocular injections of medication.
How can I protect my eyes against AMD?
The first step to protecting yourself against macular degeneration is getting a yearly eye exam. Because this condition progresses slowly, vision loss may not be present at the onset of the disease. Annual eye exams can detect early signs of macular degeneration which allows you to take action to prevent against or delay vision loss.
On a day to day basis, taking care of your eyes is fairly simple. Protect against harmful UV rays with sunglasses. Don’t smoke. Eat a good diet and exercise regularly. Specifically, increase your intake of foods rich in antioxidants, such as dark leafy green vegetables. Foods like spinach and kale are actually more beneficial to your eyes than carrots. Research suggests that these antioxidants, known as carotenoids, can build and maintain the health of the retinal layers. If you don’t like to eat your veggies, look for supplements that contain lutein and zeaxanthin. Most macular degeneration formulas also contain vitamins C, E, and zinc. While not everyone needs these supplements, if you are at a high risk for AMD based on the factors listed above, it is worth consideration since there are very few downsides to these vitamins.
For more ideas and recipes for eye-health food, check out https://www.macular.org/good-food.