Habits for Healthy Eyes
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | December 2018 | Last updated: March 2019
While the exact causes of age-related macular degeneration are not entirely known, there are risk factors that can increase your likelihood of developing the disease. In Stargardt disease, staying healthy can help promote eye health, although it won’t necessarily affect disease progression. Some risk factors, like age or gender, are not able to be changed or modified – but others, like obesity, smoking cigarettes, and sun exposure, are. Taking steps to address unhealthy habits can help promote health later on, and perhaps even slow down disease progression.
Quitting smoking not only benefits your overall health, but also your eye health, and reduces the risk of developing AMD. Some studies estimate that smoking increases your risk of developing AMD 2 to 5-fold.1The retina takes in a lot of oxygen, and because smoking damages the blood vessels that deliver oxygen to the body, including blood vessels in the retina, this can affect vision. It also creates oxidative damage to cells, which might impact disease progression.1 In Stargardt disease, smoking is also discouraged, as well as being around second-hand smoke because of the damaging effects on the eye.2 Talk with your doctor about ways to quit smoking, and which one might be best for you – cold turkey, medication, acupuncture, nicotine gum, and more.
Regular eye exams
Getting regular eye exams with dilation is important for your eye health, especially since there are no symptoms of AMD in its early stages. With regular follow-up, an eye doctor may be able to identify small changes that could indicate the progression of AMD and attempt earlier treatment. Just like how you need regular physical exams, your eyes are no different, and regular eye exams are necessary to maintain eye health.
A healthy, well-balanced diet is important for general health and well-being, but did you know it can also help contribute to healthy eyes? Obesity has been shown to increase the likelihood of developing AMD, and a healthy diet can help you maintain a healthy weight.3 While taking AREDS2 supplements might be helpful (talk with your eye doctor about this), you can also increase consumption of foods with these nutrients, like green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, legumes, nuts, shellfish, and lean meat.
Exercise not only helps combat obesity, but it can also help lower blood pressure, another risk factor for developing AMD. It can be as simple as a daily walk around the block, and then gradually adding distance or time to your walk. Take the steps instead of an escalator/elevator if you can, or find a form of physical activity that works for you. If you have any physical ailment or health condition, ask your doctor before starting an exercise regimen, to make sure it’s safe for you to do so. Your doctor can also provide you with ideas about what kinds of activity would be best for your fitness level.
Exposure to sunlight has been shown to be a risk factor in developing AMD later in life.4 If you go out into the sun, wear hats or sunglasses to minimize sun exposure to the eyes. If you work outside or are in the sun for prolonged periods of time regularly, ask your eye doctor about whether specially treated sunglasses would be a good option for you.
Know your history
Your family’s eye health history, that is. Individuals with family members with AMD and Stargardt disease may be at increased risk of developing the condition themselves.1 Knowing whether eye diseases like macular degeneration run in the family can provide you and your doctor with valuable information about your risk of developing the disease.5
Eye health is just one small component of your overall health. Developing healthy habits to nurture and improve your health and eye health can help reduce your overall risk of developing AMD. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors, and what you can do to improve your eye health and reduce your risk of disease.