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VOL. 129 | NO. 79 | Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lower Risk of Degenerative Eye Condition

DR. CHRISTOPHER BORGMAN | Special to The Daily News

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Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD) is the leading cause of blindness among the U.S population older than 50.

A study in 2002 by researchers found that there were 1.6 million Americans with advanced ARMD and that by the year 2020 there will be 2.7 million Americans with advanced ARMD because of the increasing baby-boomer populations. This study did not take into account the millions of cases of patients around the U.S. with only early and moderate ARMD, which can also cause vision loss.

Studies have shown that people with the following risk factors are at highest risk of developing ARMD: increasing age (older than 75), family history, Caucasian ancestry, females, lighter eye color, history of cigarette/tobacco use and cumulative light toxicity over one’s lifetime.

ARMD is an accumulation of retinal/metabolic debris in the area of the retina responsible for our central (20/20) vision called the macula. The debris slowly builds up and poisons the retinal tissue around it, leading to vision loss.

There are two types of ARMD: dry and wet. The dry form is by far the most common, and typically results in only mild to moderate vision loss, but severe vision loss can happen. The wet form of ARMD is rarer but can have devastating results on the vision of people afflicted. The wet form involves the development of new, but weak, blood vessels in the retina, which leak blood into the retina causing severe vision loss.

Treatment for ARMD is largely preventative and aimed at decreasing risk. In those with dry ARMD, high-dose vitamins and antioxidants based on the landmark Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS1) showed a 25 percent decreased risk of developing the advanced form of the disease and are usually prescribed for patients at risk. In 2013, the follow up study to AREDS1, the AREDS2 study, became available and showed that by adding lutein and zeaxanthin into the formula and by removing beta-carotene, we can reduce the risk of lung cancer for individuals who had been or are currently smokers. For the individuals with wet ARMD, treatment usually consists of daily AREDS2 vitamins and ocular injections to stop the leakage and bleeding of the abnormal blood vessels.

Prevention can lower risk dramatically. Sunglasses are an often forgotten, yet important ocular hygiene device. Especially sunglasses that are 100 percent UVA/UVB protective, and also limit blue wavelength light. High amounts of blue wavelength light exposure has the highest risk of macular degeneration and, therefore, limiting exposure is important over one’s lifetime. Luckily, inexpensive 100 percent UV protective sunglasses are available almost anywhere, and there are now companies looking at ways to put “blue-blocking” coatings on everyday glasses and sunglasses.

Stopping the use of tobacco products is also a good idea, as smoking is a large risk factor for ARMD progression. Lastly, and most importantly, regular eye exams by an eye doctor can uncover early signs of ARMD. For those older than 40-50 years old a regular, a yearly eye exam is a key component for healthy and long lasting eyes.

Borgman is a clinical instructor at The Eye Center at the Southern College of Optometry, www.tec.sco.edu.

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