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Macular disease is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK and age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is the most common type of the condition[i]. There are two types of AMD, known as ‘dry’ and ‘wet’. Currently wet AMD is the only form that can be treated[ii].

While the exact cause of AMD is unknown, there are many risk factors believed to be linked to the disease[iii]. Therefore, lifestyle changes you can make today can have a positive effect on your health overall, your eye health, and can help you maintain your independence for longer. 

1. Quit smoking

By quitting, you can reduce your risk of developing AMD[iv]. Furthermore, there is some evidence that smokers do not respond as well to treatments as non-smokers[v], although currently there are no large clinical studies to support this claim.

2. Eat a balanced diet

A healthy diet is believed to slow down the ageing of the eye by slowing cell degeneration[vi]. Favour a varied, antioxidant-rich diet and ensure you get your five portions of fruit and vegetables each day.

Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E help your body fight against oxidants, harmful substances that are believed to be partly responsible for the aging process. While many are familiar with the positive effects of vitamins and other antioxidants, there is a third group of nutrients that is effective against oxidants and thought to be especially good for fighting macular diseases like AMD: carotenoids. Carotenoids are yellow to red pigments found in many foods and other plants that, in nature, appear to absorb light to protect plants from excess sunlight. Two important carotenoids are called lutein and zeaxanthin, and they are found in high concentrations in orange and yellow-coloured foods[vi],[vii].

Introduce the following foods in your diet:

  • Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale
  • Nuts, seeds and legumes
  • Orange and yellow-coloured fruits and vegetables, such as oranges, yellow and orange peppers, and sweetcorn

3. Exercise regularly

From weight management to improved mood and enhanced productivity, regular exercise is linked to a wide range of health benefits[viii]. Physical activity can help you maintain your vision by improving blood flow to the eyes and reducing your risk of other health issues that are linked to AMD[ix].

Beneficial exercise can range from walking to lifting light weights. Speak to your GP about what level of exercise might be appropriate for you, and ask a friend to join you for added motivation.

4. Protect your eyes outside

Blue and ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun are harmful to the eye[x] and there is some evidence suggesting a correlation between UV exposure and the development of AMD[xi]. Wearing sunglasses and a broad brimmed hat or cap helps to protect your eyes. Choose good-quality sunglasses that have a European CE mark or British Standard BS EN ISO 12312–1:2013, and look for a UV 400 mark that means the sunglasses block 100% of UV[x]. Also consider having UV filters added to your glasses or contact lenses.

5. Monitor changes in your vision

Regular eye examinations can detect problems with your eyes and many other diseases before you notice any symptoms. If you have been diagnosed with wet AMD, it is important to make regular appointments with your eye specialist and follow their guidance for monitoring your disease between visits. One way to keep track of your vision at home is to use a tool called "Amsler grid", a simple black-and-white square with intersecting horizontal and vertical lines that can help you detect changes in your vision at an early stage.

You can order an Amsler grid by visiting macularsociety.org for more information, or by calling on 0300 3030 111.

Although these lifestyle changes can have a positive effect on your health, ongoing monitoring of your condition through regular visits to your eye specialist, and by keeping track of any changes in symptoms between visits, remains key to effectively managing your disease.

For more information on what steps you can take to manage your condition, click here.

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[i] Quartilho, A et al. Leading causes of certifiable visual loss in England and Wales during the year ending 31 March 2013. Eye vol. 30(4), 602-607. 2016.

[ii] NHS. Treatments: Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/age-related-macular-degeneration-amd/treatment/. Last accessed February 2021.

[iii] National Health Service. What is AMD? Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/age-related-macular-degeneration-amd/. Last accessed February 2021.

[iv] Velilla S, García-Medina JJ, García-Layana A, et al. Smoking and age-related macular degeneration: review and update. J Ophthalmol. 2013;2013:895147. doi:10.1155/2013/895147.

[v] Macular Society. Smoking and sight loss. Available at: https://www.macularsociety.org/support/resources/smoking/. Last accessed February 2021.

[vi] RNIB. Nutrition and the eye. Available at: https://www.rnib.org.uk/eye-health/looking-after-your-eyes/nutrition-and-eye. Last accessed February 2021.

[vii] All about Vision. Available at: https://www.allaboutvision.com/nutrition/lutein.htm. Last accessed February 2021.

[viii] NHS. Benefits of exercise. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-health-benefits/. Last accessed February 2021.

[ix] Your Sight Matters. Exercise and Eye Health. Available at: https://yoursightmatters.com/exercise-and-eye-health/. Last accessed February 2021.

[x] Macular Society. Protecting your eyes. Available at: https://www.macularsociety.org/support/practical-guides/healthy-living/protecting-your-eyes/. Last accessed February 2021.

[xi] Delcourt, Cecile et al. Lifetime Exposure to Ambient Ultraviolet Radiation and the Risk for Cataract Extraction and Age-Related Macular Degeneration: The Alienor Study. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science. 2014;55:7619–7627.

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