The macula is a small, specialized area of the retina, which provides us with high resolution vision for such things as reading and driving. Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is the most common disease of the macula and can be classified as “dry” or “wet.” Since the dry type sets the stage for the more severe wet type, it is of great benefit to try to prevent, or at least slow down, progression of the dry type. Currently there are eight known risk factors for ARMD, six of which can be modified.
There is a family tendency, but take comfort in the fact that ARMD is not strictly hereditary. Just because a family member has it doesn’t mean that you will get it, but because heredity is a risk factor, you should have your eyes examined periodically and take your doctor’s advice.
ARMD does occur more frequently the older we get, especially after age 50, but age itself is not a disease and its adverse effects on the eyes and all other parts of the body can be greatly postponed by a healthy life-style.
If you don’t smoke, don’t even think about it. If you do, please quit immediately. Smoke is a highly toxic substance, which severely damages virtually every organ in your body, including your eyes.
UV light is a short wave-length high energy light which causes macular damage as well as cataracts. Most of our UV exposure comes from the sun, but we also get some indoors from fluorescent and especially halogen lights. Incandescent bulbs do not pose a risk. Fortunately, we can protect ourselves from UV light by simply having UV filters in our glasses. UV filters are clear and are not the same as sunglasses, although sunglasses often do have UV filters. The tint of the sunglasses is only for comfort and offers no protection unless UV filters are also present. For those who have cataracts requiring surgery, UV filters are available for the new lenses that are implanted in the eyes at the time of surgery.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
HBP is a risk factor for ARMD and a variety of other serious medical problems. Fortunately however, HBP can be controlled with proper diet and exercise, loss of excess body fat, avoidance of smoking, and medications if necessary.
EXCESS BODY FAT
This is a risk factor for ARMD and lots of other serious diseases but can readily be treated or (better yet) avoided by proper diet and exercise.
LACK OF EXERCISE
This is a risk factor for ARMD and a major risk factor for a whole host of other serious diseases. Everyone needs a regular exercise program under the guidance of his or her primary care physician.
The National Eye Institute recommends a diet rich in dark green leafy vegetables for almost everyone unless they are taking a blood thinner called Coumadin or warfarin. NEI recommends eating a serving of spinach, collard greens, or kale three times a week. NEI does not recommend taking “eye vitamins” unless you already have moderately advanced ARMD as diagnosed by your general ophthalmologist or retina specialist, and even then only one specific formula. Vitamin supplements do not prevent ARMD from occurring. (This topic will be covered in more detail in the future.)
As you can see, a healthy life-style that helps to protect your body from disease also helps to protect your eyes from disease. It’s all just common sense.