February is Macular Degeneration Month
The following is by Bert Keller and Bill Simpson of the Charleston SC Post & Courier.
The key is recognizing the disease early. Risk factors help us to recognize persons at greater risk of AMD. As indicated by its name, age is a key risk factor. AMD occurs after age 60 and increases to affect almost 15 percent of those over 80.
Caucasians are more likely to develop AMD than any other race, and women are more likely to develop it than men, probably only because they tend to live longer. The risk of the disease also doubles if one or more first-degree relatives have it, especially if it develops at an early age.
Likewise, smoking doubles the risk of AMD. Ultraviolet light exposure increases risk by about 50 percent in persons who have the heaviest levels of exposure (think mountaineers and sailors). People with high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases are also at greater risk of AMD.
An eye-healthy diet is essentially a heart-healthy one with extra emphasis on dark green, leafy vegetables such as collards, kale and spinach. These contain high levels of good-for-the-eyes carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin).
At least two servings of fish a week are recommended and have been shown to decrease AMD risk by up to 45 percent. A diet high in fruits and nuts and with fewer refined carbohydrates, including white bread, white potatoes and sugary beverages, is also recommended.
Because we aging amateurs often fail to get all the vitamins and minerals we need via our dietary intake alone, a “mature” multivitamin and mineral supplement is probably a good investment. Talk to your eye doctor about whether a special eye-vitamin formula is indicated for you based on your exam and family history.
If you have elevated blood pressure and/or cholesterol, get those issues taken care of. But avoid beta-blockers such as atenolol or propranolol unless used after a heart attack, or vasodilators such as Apresoline and others. These are old treatments for high blood pressure and rarely used today. They also have been associated with increased risk for AMD.
Those who exercise regularly, walking at a moderate clip for at least 30 minutes a day, and maintain a healthy weight are up to 70 percent less likely to develop AMD.
Wear sunglasses with UV and HEV (high energy visible) ”blue” light protection when outdoors in daylight. If you use a smart phone, computer or flat screen television several hours a day, consider a blue light filter or blue-light filtering lens.
A tool that has some research support is the Amsler grid. It is available in several forms, black lines on white paper, white lines on black, in a small key fob-like gizmo that looks like an old View-Master eyepiece. You look at the grid one eye at a time to recognize a spot in your visual field that is fuzzy or isn’t there at all or lines in the grid that are not straight.
Spots or curved lines may indicate problems in the retina. Used every week, or even more frequently, the grid may pick up early changes in the retina that, with treatment, can avoid problems with AMD. The grid and instructions for its use are available at: allaboutvision.com/conditions/amsler-grid.htm.
Finally, to decrease your risk of AMD, get regular eye check-ups, at least annually for those over 60.
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