The rate of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) among smokers is significantly greater than that of non smokers.
AMD, an eye disease that affects more than 1.65 million Americans over the age of 50, has no cure. Although several new promising medications are currently being tested, those who have been diagnosed can only treat the symptoms.
However, recent studies have shown that one way to reduce the risk of developing AMD is by not smoking. A study published in the British Medical Journal from the University of Manchester found that smokers were three to four times more likely to develop AMD than non smokers. And, non smokers living with smokers almost double their risk of developing AMD.
Fortunately, the research also showed that former smokers who had quit for over 20 years had the same risk level of those who had never smoked. Smoking impairs the effects of antioxidants, which then damage the retina.
In a recent survey commissioned by AMD Alliance International, only 32% of respondents who had heard of AMD were aware of the link between AMD and smoking. In addition to AMD, smoking has been linked to increases in the cases of cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
“We’ve all known for years that smoking is bad for our health,” said Daniel D. Garrett, senior vice president of Prevent Blindness America. “But some people may not know that besides causing cancers, smoking can also cause vision loss and eventually lead to blindness!”
Prevent Blindness America, the nation’s leading volunteer eye health and safety organization, has designated the month of February as Age-related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month in an effort to educate the public on the disease and what steps can be taken to avoid it. Because of the large aging population, the number of AMD cases is estimated to balloon to almost three million in the year 2020.
“We also want to remind everyone, whether they are smokers or not, that the most effective way to fight the effects of AMD is through early detection and treatment,” added Garrett. “Prevent Blindness America strongly encourages regular eye examinations from qualified eye care professionals.”
AMD begins as a loss of central vision which results in difficulty to read a book and see fine details. Over time, the vision loss increases significantly. Of the two forms of AMD, “dry” and “wet,” dry AMD is the most common form of the disease. It involves the presence of drusen —fatty deposits that form under the light-sensing cells in the retina. Vision loss in dry AMD usually progresses slowly. Wet AMD is less common, but more rapidly threatening to vision. Wet AMD causes tiny blood vessels under the retina to leak or break open. This distorts vision and causes scar tissue to form.
Healthy habits can lead to healthy eyes. The risk of eye disease and vision loss can be lowered if you: quit smoking; eat healthy foods (including green leafy vegetables and foods high in zinc, vitamins C and E, and beta carotene); control blood pressure and cholesterol; stay active; and, visit your eye care professional on a regular basis.
For free information on AMD, please visit Prevent Blindness America at www.preventblindness.org or call 1-800-331-2020.