New research suggests living in a city with poor air quality increases your chance of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—a leading cause of blindness. The study, published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, found that residents of highly polluted areas were at least 8% more likely to be diagnosed with AMD than residents of less polluted areas.
AMD develops when the macula, the part of the eye responsible for central vision, is damaged.
How does air pollution cause eye problems?
“This new study shows an association between air pollution and AMD risk, but we still don't know the mechanism involved,” said Raj Maturi, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “We do know that increased inflammation can increase risk of dry macular degeneration, and pollutants increase inflammatory responses.”
How do I know if I have age-related macular degeneration?
Symptoms include loss of central vision, blurry vision or seeing "wavy" lines.
During the early phases of AMD, people often notice no changes to their vision. Because of this, getting your eyes checked regularly by an ophthalmologist is critical.
Lower your risk of vision loss from macular degeneration
While some factors may be out of your control, there are several lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of vision loss from AMD. These healthy habits include not smoking, eating an eye-healthy diet and exercising regularly.
“We know that our genetics can contribute to almost half the risk of macular degeneration in some people. We, of course can't change this—though there are drugs currently in research studies to address this,” said Dr. Maturi. “The risk factors that we can modify include smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”
Treatments for eye diseases like wet AMD are most effective with an early diagnosis. Make sure you get regular comprehensive eye exams to lower your risk of vision loss.
You may be eligible for a free eye exam
For individuals age 65 or older who are concerned about their risk of eye disease, you may be eligible for a free medical eye exam through the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeCare America® program. This public service program matches volunteer ophthalmologists with eligible patients in need of eye care across the United States. To see if you or a loved one qualifies, visit EyeCare America.