What is Macular Degeneration?

What is Macular Degeneration?


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is occurring at a rapid rate in this country. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), 10-15 million individuals have the condition and about 10 percent of those affected have the wet type of macular degeneration ("Are You at Risk," 2010).

Risk Factors

According to the AAO, if you have at least two of the top-five risk factors listed below, you should get a thorough eye examination by an ophthalmologist or other medical eye specialist and learn what you can do to reduce your risks ("Are You at Risk," 2010).

  • Smoking

  • Obesity

  • Age (Over 60 Years Old)

  • Hypertension

  • Family History of AMD


Current smokers have a two-to-three times higher risk for developing MD than people who have never smoked. Quitting smoking can reduce your risk of developing MD (Thornton et al., 2005).


Being obese doubles the risk of developing advanced macular degeneration (van Leeuwen et al., 2003). Losing weight via a healthy diet and regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing MD.

Age (Over 60 Years Old)

Although AMD may occur earlier, studies indicate that people over age 60 are at greater risk than those in younger age groups. For instance, a large study found that people in middle age have about a 2 percent risk of getting AMD, but this risk increased to nearly 30 percent in those over age 75 ("Facts About," 2009).


The National Eye Institute's (NEI) Age-Related Eye Disease Study indicated that persons with hypertension were 1.5 times as likely to develop wet macular degeneration compared with persons without hypertension ("Facts About," 2009).

Family History of AMD

Studies indicate that having a parent, child, or sibling with macular degeneration can mean your chances of developing the condition are 2.5 times higher than people with no close relatives with AMD (Fine, Berger, Maguire, & Ho, 2000). Further, your lifetime risk for developing MD can be up to four times higher if you have close relatives with the condition. While not all MD is hereditary, certain genes have been strongly associated with a person's risk of MD, and genetic predisposition may account for half the cases of AMD in this country (Haines et al., 2005).

Other Possible Risk Factors

  • Gender. Women appear to be more at risk of AMD than men ("Facts About," 2009).

  • Race. Whites are much more likely to lose vision from AMD than African Americans ("Facts About," 2009).

  • Exposure to Sunlight. Exposure to blue light waves may damage the macula. This exposure can be limited by sunglasses such as NOIR glasses, which have a yellow tint that blocks blue light waves. In addition, eating green and leafy vegetables can help. See the "Ways to Reduce your Risk" section in this article for more dietary guidance.

  • Heart Disease. Macular degeneration is also linked to coronary heart disease ("Positive Trend," 2009).

Ways to Reduce Your Risk

1. Get Moving

2. Incorporate exercise into your everyday life.

3. Eat Healthily

Dr. Lylas Mogk (2003), noted ophthalmologist and author on macular degeneration, offers the following suggestions:

  1. Eat a lot of dark green leafy vegetables like kale, collard greens, and spinach. These types of vegetables contain a lot of lutein, which protects the macula from sun damage, just as it protects the leaves from sun damage.

  2. Eat fatty fish regularly. These types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help decrease inflammation and promote eye health.

  3. Avoid packaged foods as much as possible. It's important to keep a balance between omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. Virtually every food in a package contains omega-6 fatty acids in the form of vegetable oil. We need to increase our intake of omega-3s and decrease our intake of omega-6s.

  4. Avoid artificial fats. Low-fat foods are good options if they've achieved their low-fat status through a process that physically removes the fat. Skim milk and low fat cottage cheese are examples of these types of good low-fat foods. A low-fat cookie or a no-fat cake, however, is a nutritional oxymoron. Usually a low-fat or no-fat label on baked goods doesn't mean less fat was used in the production of the food, but that an artificial fat was used, usually partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. These types of fats are artificial ingredients made in a laboratory and our bodies can't metabolize them. So, it's best to eat real cookies, just don't eat the whole dozen!

1. Stop Smoking

2. Your risk of AMD will begin to drop immediately.

3. Lower Blood Pressure and Lose Weight

4. Follow your doctor's orders.

5. Schedule Regular Eye Evaluations

If you have not had an eye exam by an ophthalmologist in three or more years, you may qualify for help from the AMD Eye Care Program offered through the AAO. The program provides free eye exams for individuals who have not been diagnosed with AMD, are age 65 and older, are U.S. citizens or legal residents, and do not belong to an HMO or the VA. Call the toll-free helpline at 1-866-324-EYES (3937) for more information.

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