Prevention & Risk Factors

Medical experts are not sure exactly what causes age-related macular degeneration (AMD), but some factors may increase your risk of developing it. Find out how you can protect your eye health and prevent macular degeneration.

  • Risk factors for age-related macular degeneration
  • Heredity and macular degeneration
  • Tips for protecting eye health and preventing macular degeneration

Risk Factors for Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age

The number one risk factor is age. One-third of adults over 75 are affected by AMD.

Smoking

Smoking increases a person’s chances of developing AMD by two to five fold. Because the retina has a high rate of oxygen consumption, anything that affects oxygen delivery to the retina may affect vision. Smoking causes oxidative damage, which may contribute to the development and progression of this disease.

Learn more about why smoking damages the retina, and explore a number of steps you can take to protect your vision.

Family History of AMD

A person is more likely to develop AMD if someone in his or her immediate family has had it.

Gender

Females are more likely to develop AMD than males. This factor may be because females live longer than males, and thus have more time to develop the disease.

Race

Caucasians are more likely to develop AMD than other races. This factor may be related to differences in genetic background or pigmentation.

Prolonged Sun Exposure

Although the evidence is not conclusive, some studies suggest an association between AMD and cumulative eye damage from ultraviolet (UV) and other light. This light may damage the retina and increase the risk of AMD.

Explore the latest research regarding bright lights and retina damage, and how to properly protect your eyes.

Diet 

People with diets that are elevated in fat, cholesterol and high glycemic index foods, and low in antioxidants and green leafy vegetables may be more likely to develop AMD. High-glycemic index foods, such as white rice, bread and pasta raise blood sugar rapidly, whereas low-glycemic foods, such as whole grain breads or oatmeal can lower the risk of AMD by stabilizing blood sugar levels.

Learn about the foods that can best maintain the health of your eyes.

Obesity

A person with a BMI (body mass index, a measure of body fat) of greater than 30 is 2.5 times more likely to develop the disease than a person with a lower BMI.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, like smoking, leads to a constriction (narrowing) of the blood vessels that nourish the retina, restricting oxygen flow.

Eye Color

People with light-colored eyes are more likely to develop the dry type of AMD. This factor may be because light-pigmented eyes offer less protection from damaging UV light.

Inactivity

In dry AMD, the retina does not receive adequate oxygen, leading to the death of cells in the macula. Exercise improves cardiovascular health and might help prevent AMD.

Presence of AMD in One Eye

If a person has AMD in one eye, he or she is more likely to develop it in the other eye.

Heredity and Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration typically affects people over 50. Scientific evidence shows that genes may play a role in the development of nearly three out of four cases of this devastating eye disease.

Medical experts have found several genes that are strongly associated with the risk of developing macular degeneration. Researchers continue to study other gene candidates to determine their role in this disease.

Although macular degeneration definitely has a strong genetic component, its development is mostly due to a combination of factors, including:

  • Gene mutations or variations
  • Environmental factors such as:
    • Diet
    • Smoking
    • Exercise

Tips for Protecting Eye Health and Preventing Macular Degeneration

These suggestions may help protect vision and improve your overall health, and some may lower the risk of developing AMD. Even if you already have AMD, continue these healthy habits:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a nutritious diet that includes green leafy vegetables, yellow and orange fruit, fish and whole grains.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Maintain normal blood pressure and control other medical conditions.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Wear sunglasses and hats when you are outdoors.
  • Get regular eye exams, and consult your doctor if you notice vision changes.

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