February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in adults aged 60 and older. Awareness of this eye disease, its risk factors and prevention are important at every age because taking care of your eyes when you are young can help to reduce the risks later on in life.
AMD is a disease that damages the macula or the area of the retina that is responsible for sharp central vision. Breakdown of the macula can lead to severely compromised vision (low vision) or even blindness in late stages. Loss of central vision can lead to difficulty with everyday tasks such as reading, driving or even recognizing the faces of family and friends. While there is no cure for AMD there are lifestyle changes that can be protective for this condition, low vision aids to help those coping with vision loss and treatment available for some types of AMD.
The biggest risk factor for AMD is age. Individuals over 60 years old are more likely to develop this condition although it can develop earlier as well. Additional risk factors include smoking, family history of AMD, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, poor diet and lack of exercise. Modifying our genetics may not be a readily available option for the treatment of AMD at this time but new research suggests that gene therapy may be an effective type of treatment in the future. However, there are many lifestyle habits that we can adopt now to help protect our ocular health. These include:
- stop smoking
- maintaining a healthy weight
- eat a diet rich in dark, green leafy vegetables & orange pigmented fruits and veggies
- exercising regularly
- keeping good blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- wearing UV-blocking sunglasses
The first step to eye health is awareness, getting regular eye examinations and informing your Optometrist about your family history can help us to keep your eyes healthy for life. If you haven’t had your annual eye exam, this would be a good time to book one.