Four tips to help keep eyes healthy

Narinder Sharma, president and chief executive of AMD Alliance International, offers advice which could keep age-related macular degeneration at bay

It used to be that dentures and walking sticks were considered an inevitable part of ageing. With awareness about dental health and the importance of keeping fit, these are becoming more a thing of the past. But what about blindness from another age-related condition?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive retinal disease, usually occurring at the age of 50 or older and is the leading cause of vision loss for seniors in the UK.

With an ageing population, AMD is likely to become an increasing problem, so you need to be aware of the following four steps to prevent AMD happening to you or in your family.

If you have a family history of AMD, you need to pay particular attention, as ageing and genetics are considered the highest risk factors. Having high risk factors does not mean that you will get AMD automatically, but following these four steps may help you avoid it.

1. Early detection to tackle progression – From the age of 40, you should ask your optician for a fully dilated eye examination at least once every two years and once a year from 50. If you are going to contract AMD, the earlier it is spotted the less damage it can do.

2. Do not smoke – Research has demonstrated that AMD is two to three times as frequent among tobacco smokers and the risk is dose dependent. In other words, the more you smoke, the greater the risk and the faster the progression of the disease. Saving your sight is another good reason to pack up smoking.

3. Diet and exercise – Fatty plaque deposits in the macular vessels, which can hamper blood flow, increase the risk of AMD, so stick to a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet and a get plenty of exercise. A diet low in fat promotes good eye health. Several research studies have also suggested that certain vitamins and nutrients may actually reduce vision loss. Diets rich in antioxidant vitamins C and E, the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene, and the mineral zinc may help prevent or delay AMD progression.

4. Drink sensibly – A recent study of Australians concluded that men and women who drank more than 20mg of alcohol per day (a standard glass of wine is 15mg) had an approximately 20 per cent increased risk of developing AMD. While alcohol may contribute modestly to AMD, smoking is the most established behavioural risk factor.

International AMD Awareness Week runs from September 22 to 30. AMD Alliance International is embarking on a two-year campaign to raise awareness of AMD and its prevention. For more information visit www.amdalliance.org