Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can cause significant vision loss and worsen an older person’s quality of life. February is AMD and Low Vision Awareness Month, and as patients age and their risk for AMD increases, physicians can educate them on best steps to prevent this debilitating eye condition.
1. Stop Smoking
In a 2020 study from Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, smoking was referred to as “the most consistently reported modifiable risk factor for AMD and is associated with a 2-4 fold increased risk for any form of AMD.”¹ Quitting smoking reduces AMD risk and the earlier the better; the researchers also claimed that after 20 years of having quit smoking, the risk probability of developing AMD is comparable to that of nonsmokers.
2. Increase Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake
In terms of how dietary changes can help lessen AMD risk, some studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids could be beneficial. Researchers from the aforementioned study noted that fish are rich in these fatty acids and found that consumption of fish was associated with reduced risk of AMD disease progression.
3. Eat an Antioxidant-Rich Diet
Antioxidant-rich diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, have also shown potential benefits in reducing AMD risk. Diets high in antioxidants have a higher proportion of fruit (berries in particular) and leafy green vegetables and a lower proportion of carbohydrates with a high glycemic index, which is seen as a risk factor for AMD progression.
4. Filter Sunlight to Reduce Exposure
Attempts to quantify how extended sunlight exposure affects AMD risk have been inconsistent, but exposure to sunlight can still damage the eyes. Patients should take care to wear protection to reduce sunlight exposure for their overall eye health and avoid retinal damage, especially if they spend significant periods of time outdoors.
5. Exercise Regularly
A 2017 study in the American Journal of Ophthalmology examined data regarding AMD and physical activity, finding an association between physical activity and lower odds of early and late AMD.² Exercise affects not just eye health but other risk factors for AMD, like obesity and cardiovascular disease. Patients may not be as aware of the benefits regular exercise can have on their ocular health as they are of its benefits in other areas.
6. Manage Blood Pressure
Hypertension is a risk factor for AMD progression as it is associated with restricted blood flow to the eyes. High blood pressure can be genetic but is also associated with many of the lifestyle choices mentioned above (smoking, diet, physical activity, etc). Keeping cardiovascular health in check can go a long way toward maintaining patients’ eye health as well.
7. Take Vitamin Supplements
Multivitamins and supplements for some aforementioned dietary needs (omega-3, antioxidants, etc) may help patients decrease their risk for developing AMD. In 2021, the American Academy of Ophthalmology provided a list of recommended vitamin supplements — including vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and copper supplements — people can take daily to lower their risk of late-stage and wet AMD.³
- Heesterbeek TJ, Lorés-Motta L, Hoyng CB, Lechanteur YTE, den Hollander AI. Risk factors for progression of age-related macular degeneration. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2020;40(2):140-170. doi:10.1111/opo.12675
- McGuinness MB, Le J, Mitchell P, et al. Physical activity and age-related macular degeneration: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Am J Ophthalmol. 2017;180:29-38. doi:10.1016/j.ajo.2017.05.016
- Boyd K. Vitamins for AMD. American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/vitamins-amd. Published January 6, 2021. Accessed February 8, 2021.