Never Too Late to Quit Smoking, Reduce AMD Risk

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It is never too late to reduce your risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by quitting smoking, say scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Smoking and age are the two most important risk factors for AMD.

AMD is the leading cause of legal blindness for people older than 50 in the Western world, according to the AMD Alliance International. An estimated 25 to 30 million people around the world are affected, and this number is expected to triple within 25 years. In the United States alone, about 1.8 million people age 40 and older have AMD, and more than four times that number are at significant risk of developing the eye disease, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

In the current study, which appears in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, the researchers followed 1,958 women who underwent retinal photographs at five-year internals, beginning with a baseline exam at age 78. Four percent of the women smoked.

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The retina is examined because AMD causes progressive damage to the macula, which is at the center of the retina. The macula allows people to see fine details. As the macula deteriorates, individuals lose central vision, which prevents them from being able to read, drive, recognize faces, watch TV, and many other activities.

A comparison of the retinal images showed that overall, women who smoked had an 11 percent higher rate of AMD than women their same age who did not. In women older than 80, those who smoked were 5.5 times more likely to develop AMD than women their age who did not smoke.

Prior to this study, most of the research in AMD has been done in people younger than 75, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Anne Coleman, professor of ophthalmology at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA. She notes that “this research provides the first accurate snapshot of how smoking affects AMD risk later in life.”

The bottom line is that “it’s never too late to quit smoking,” says Dr. Coleman. “We found that even older people’s eyes will benefit from kicking the habit.” Smoking is believed to have several negative effects on the eyes in causing AMD, including reducing the levels of antioxidants, altering blood flow to the eyes, and lowering levels of pigments in the retina.

SOURCES:
AMD Alliance International
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Improving the Nation’s Vision Health: A Coordinated Public Health Approach”
University of California, Los Angeles, press release, Dec. 31, 2009

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