The 411 on Macular Degeneration Prevention

Macular degeneration is a vision-impairing problem that affects over 10 million Americans, making it more prevalent than glaucoma and cataracts combined, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation. Also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the disease is a common cause of blindness among people aged 50 and older.

AMD causes the macula, a part of your eye near the retina, to deteriorate. The disease does not impact peripheral vision, but rather affects how well you see what is right in front of you. As macular degeneration progresses, obscured or blurry spots can appear in the center of your vision, making it challenging to read, drive, or even recognize faces.

How to Prevent Macular Degeneration

Since 2008, Prevent Blindness has established the month of February as Age-Related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month. The exact cause of AMD is unknown, though reducing your risk of macular degeneration may be possible.

Preventing AMD requires taking precautions and making healthy decisions throughout your life, not just during AMD Awareness Month. Here’s what you need to do.

  • Wear sunglasses. The intense ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun can damage sensitive cells in the eyes and eventually affect your vision. Whenever you are outdoors, ensure to wear sunglasses that offer protection from both UVA and UVB rays. “The sun-related diseases people develop are not related to the vacation they had last week,” said Dr. Howard R. Krauss, a neuro-ophthalmologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “They are related to the vacation they had 40 years ago. Whether it causes macular degeneration, aging of the skin or cancer, sun exposure is a cumulative thing over a long period of time and needs to be limited.”
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat. If you live in one of the sunniest cities in the world, wearing a broad-brimmed hat can protect your eyes from direct, harmful sunlight.
  • Do not smoke or use tobacco products. Smoking increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration and other eye conditions such as dry eye syndrome, cataract, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.
  • Eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet. “A heart-healthy diet rich in antioxidants can support the eye,” advised Dr. Samuel Pierce, OD, president of the American Optometric Association. Consume green leafy vegetables high in lutein, such as spinach and kale.
  • Make exercise a priority. Different studies within the last decade have found connections between regular exercise and lowering risks for several common eye ailments, including age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts.
  • Get yourself tested. A portable vision test from the Kellogg Eye Center at the University of Michigan can help you check for signs of macular degeneration. Simply stare at the paper grid. If you notice that the lines are wavy or your vision becomes darker, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor to receive an accurate diagnosis. Early detection is crucial to saving your vision.

By following these suggestions, you know you have done everything you can to prevent age-related macular degeneration. However, you should be especially diligent if you have a family history of macular degeneration, which medical researchers show is a risk factor for the disease.