A stressed face with red-outlined eyes, surrounded by stress squiggles.

Stress and Macular Degeneration

Life was rocking along pretty well until I suddenly awoke at 2 AM with burning pain in my wrist.  I got up and went into the bathroom expecting to find a bite of some sort.  Nope, no bites or even redness. Suddenly I remembered that I had caught myself rubbing the spot where I had the burning pain off and on the day before.  As I rubbed my arm it felt ultra-sensitive. With a sinking feeling, I suddenly knew what my problem was. I had shingles.

Shingles

If you ever have shingles once, let alone twice, you know what I am talking about.  Your skin hurts and is so sensitive you can’t stand anything touching it.

My first episode with shingles occurred during a highly stressful time in my life.  Along with a compromised immune system, stressful events can trigger shingles.1

Cumulative stress

As I thought over what was going on in my life, I couldn’t isolate a single episode that might explain why I had shingles a second time. Upon further reflection, I thought back over the past few months. I concluded that the accumulated stress of living through the Covid-19 pandemic and social isolation could have certainly played a role in raising my stress levels. 

Simply turning on the news is stressful for me as I watch stories on the social upheaval and political unrest that have marked the past year. Cumulative stress over time can have a similar effect on health. Life in the 21st century is stressful for most all of us.1

Stress's impact on macular degeneration

By now you may be wondering what all this has to do with macular degeneration. As a matter of fact, stress can have a negative impact on our vision.

Many of you have experienced a situation so stressful that you literally got temporary tunnel vision.  During the event, you lose peripheral vision narrowing your focus.3

But what about cumulative stress? I wondered if this might be having a negative effect on my dry macular degeneration. Researchers know that high stress has been linked with age-related macular degeneration  (AMD).4

Stress is recognized as both a causal factor for vision loss as well as a consequence of loss of vision in several eye diseases. Less is known about the effect of long term stress specifically on the progression of AMD.5

Conclusions and next steps

I have had dry AMD for six years now. I have made every effort to take those steps I can to slow the progression of my disease.  I have adopted a diet based on the recommended Mediterranean diet, get regular exercise, protect my eyes from the sun, and never miss a dose of the AREDS2 eye vitamins.  In spite of my best efforts, my dry AMD has progressed quickly in my right eye.

Having shingles has caused me to focus on the stress in my life.  My next step is to concentrate on ways to alleviate the stress. In part two I will share my steps to combat stress.

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