It’s in the air

SES, 17 February 2022

   

Air quality affects more than just your lungs. New research shows the prevalence of Age-related Macular Degeneration in locations with high levels of air pollution.

The British Journal of Ophthalmology has recently released a study that found residents of highly polluted parts of the world were at least 8% more likely to be diagnosed with Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) than those who lived in less polluted areas.

AMD is the result of damage to the macula, which is the part of the eye that takes care of central vision. AMD sufferers report loss of central vision, blurriness and wavy lines in central vision. There can be few symptoms in the early stages of AMD, which is when the disease is at its most treatable (making this yet another reason to get regular eye checks).

There are two forms of AMD: Wet and Dry. Approximately 10% of AMD is the wet form. It is caused when new, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina and leak blood or other fluids, which reduces vision and eventually causes scarring of the macula. The most common treatment for Wet AMD is anti-VEGF injections (e.g. Avastin) which stop the abnormal blood vessels from leaking and can stabilise or improve vision.

Both forms of AMD can be prevented and slowed by having a good diet with lots of eye-healthy foods, getting exercise, and being a non-smoker. So too does living in a place with little air pollution.

Dry AMD, which is far more common, tends to happen along with aging and is caused as parts of the macula get thinner and tiny clumps of protein accumulate under the retina, impairing central vision. The more severe stages of dry AMD are largely untreatable, although Southern Eye Specialists is involved in several clinical trials of new treatments which we hope will slow the progression of this disease. For patients with intermediate dry AMD, an AREDS-2 multivitamin supplement can reduce the risk of visual loss.

Both forms of AMD can be prevented and slowed by having a good diet with lots of eye-healthy foods, getting exercise, and being a non-smoker. So too does living in a place with little air pollution.

Barring a few colder areas of the country where wood and coal fires can cause high levels of particulate matter, New Zealand has some of the best air quality in the world.

However, we’re not entirely out of the woods. Our high levels of UV light can put us at risk of other forms of eye damage, such as cataracts (clouding of the lens), pterygium (fleshy growth on the eye’s surface) and skin cancer of the eyelids. Wearing sunglasses and hats outside can prevent these issues – as can going to your optometrist for regular eye appointments to check your eye health.