Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of vision loss among older adults. With macular degeneration, a person’s retina becomes damaged and they will gradually lose their central vision and may eventually find it impossible to read, drive or perform daily tasks. Vision loss from macular degeneration is irreversible.
Macular degeneration comes in two types: wet and dry. The vast majority of cases are dry, which is a slow-developing form of macular degeneration. Typically there are no noticeable symptoms of macular degeneration until the later stages of the disease. This makes slowing the progression of the disease more difficult. Macular degeneration can develop in one or both eyes, and it is possible for one person to get both wet and dry macular degeneration.
There is currently no cure for macular degeneration, but there do seem to be some steps you can take to protect yourself and lower your odds. First, understand that macular degeneration affects millions of adults, but that some of us are at an elevated risk thanks to certain factors linked to higher instances of macular degeneration.
Risk factors for macular degeneration
Macular degeneration is more common in some demographics. Unfortunately, a lot of these categories are not something you have any control over. Yet it is still good to know your risk factors so you and your eye doctor can be proactive about preventing, noticing and treating macular degeneration. The following factors put you at a slightly higher risk for macular degeneration:
- Older age
- Light eye color
- Family history of macular degeneration
Lowering your risk of macular degeneration
There is no single way to prevent macular degeneration. We are still learning a lot about this disease and its exact causes, and a lot of the risk of macular degeneration lies in your predisposed risk factors. However, we do know there are certain behaviors that can increase your risk of macular degeneration or worsen it should you already be developing it.
The following are easy ways to lower your odds of developing macular degeneration:
1. Protect your eyes from the sun
Some research suggests that both blue light and ultraviolet light may contribute to macular degeneration. The sun is the biggest source of both of these types of light.
Damage from sunlight is cumulative, meaning that your risk grows each time you expose your eyes to the sun. And conversely, the more you wear 100 percent UV-resistant sunglasses, the lower your risk stays. You should wear protective eyewear as often as possible while outside. Even on the days that are overcast and cold, you are still being exposed to the sun’s UV rays.
2. Eat a healthy diet
There appears to be a link between nutrients and macular degeneration. A poor diet may contribute to higher rates of macular degeneration in some populations. It is important to eat eye-healthy foods like leafy greens and anything rich in antioxidants. Carrots, squash, and fish are also eye-healthy options. Talk to your eye doctor about supplements, as well. They may recommend you take a daily nutritional supplement to augment your diet.
3. Quit smoking
Adults who smoke are nearly twice as likely to develop macular degeneration. This is not surprising knowing the devastating effects smoking can have on the body and the eyes in particular. Smoking affects the blood vessels in and around your eyes, and so does macular degeneration. If you smoke and develop macular degeneration, this “double-dipping” will likely cause the disease to progress even faster. Quitting smoking will lower your risk of many diseases, including macular degeneration.
4. Maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure
High blood pressure and complications from obesity can lead to constriction of the blood vessels. Since macular degeneration affects the blood vessels of the retina, conditions that do the same will only worsen the progression of macular degeneration.
5. Get regular eye exams
The symptoms of macular degeneration are almost never noticed until the disease has progressed. However, a comprehensive eye exam will be able to pick up traces of macular degeneration long before a patient notices anything is wrong.
Schedule an appointment with your eye doctor once a year, and talk to them about your risk of macular degeneration. Your doctor will give you more suggestions on how best to protect yourself and they will be able to spot the disease immediately if it comes up. A routine eye exam also means you’ll get an updated eyeglass prescription, so your vision will stay sharp and clear.
With an updated prescription, you’re also free to shop for custom frames and lenses at online retailers like 39DollarGlasses.com. The wide selection of cheap online glasses will allow you to save money without sacrificing quality.
For more information about age-related macular degeneration and its effects, read our AMD guide.