Slowing the Progression of AMD – It’s a Lifestyle Choice!
By Dr. Timothy Earley, OD
5 proactive ways to delay vision loss from age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
The proactive treatment of chronic medical conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) rarely takes a one-step approach. A preventive treatment plan in which the patient plays an active role and is empowered to guide their journey is very important. Thankfully, there are steps that can be taken to try to delay progression of the disease and preserve central vision.
Smoking and its many risks to overall health are well documented. However, many patients are surprised to learn that smoking poses significant risk to the health of the eyes. Dangerous components of the inhaled smoke affect the sensitive tissues in the retina and can increase the risk of AMD. As a matter of fact, smokers are up to four times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers.
Eye Health Supplements
For patients who have been diagnosed with AMD, vitamin supplementation is a viable method for reducing the risk of progression of AMD. The AREDS study results in the mid-2000s showed that supplementation with antioxidants and carotenoids proved effective at reducing the progression of intermediate AMD. It stands to reason that the earlier we diagnose AMD in its clinical course, the more beneficial vitamin supplements may prove to be. Prescribing a carotenoid vitamin supplement that is right for each patient is a critical step in slowing the progression of AMD in patients. Adding a vitamin to the daily regimen after a consultation with an eye care provider is always an excellent idea.
It is well known that a healthy diet and physical exercise are key to a healthy lifestyle. Patients are often instructed by physicians to minimize consumption of certain foods that may be detrimental to their overall health. Chronic conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity are managed by controlling the amount and type of food ingested and increasing physical activity. These lifestyle and dietary choices help patients manage their body mass index (BMI) and abdominal obesity, both of which are risk factors for advanced macular degeneration. Following a healthy diet rich in antioxidants and low in dangerous fats, and adhering to an exercise program, are proven ways to assure a healthier body. It will also assure a reduced risk of progressive AMD.
Blue Light Filters/Protection
Blue light exposure from LED computers and hand-held device screens has been found to increase eyestrain and aggravate patients with a retina sensitive to this wavelength of light. Reducing exposure to blue light and utilizing eyewear that blocks or reflects this blue light away from the eye is helpful for patients who spend a lot of time on digital devices. More research is needed to determine the overall effect of blue light and what dose of this wavelength of light is too much for the retina to tolerate. In the meantime, prevention is the best medicine!
Monitoring Disease Progression
Research shows that the ability of the eye to adjust from bright light conditions to darkness – dark adaptation – is reduced at the earliest stages of AMD and worsens as the disease progresses. It is for this reason that patients often have difficulty seeing in reduced lighting situations – difficulty navigating in the dark, avoidance of night driving, inability to read in dim lighting, or adjusting from light to dark (such as walking into a movie theatre). Patients also describe these symptoms as becoming more noticeable over time.
Using AdaptDx® to measure a patient’s dark adaptation makes it possible to not only find AMD at least three years before any other test, but also provides the doctor with a quantifiable number that can be tracked over time to assess if the prescribed lifestyle changes are truly slowing the progression of the disease. Measuring the speed of dark adaptation with AdaptDx on a routine basis will allow for timely detection of significant AMD progression and, should this should occur, intervention by a specialist may be necessary to reduce the chance of significant vision loss due to undiagnosed advancing disease.
Like any chronic medical condition, the approach to clinical management of AMD is based on a holistic approach led by the eyecare provider and carried out by the patient. Following the recommendations listed above is an excellent start. Routine examination, diligent use of carotenoid supplementation, and careful consideration of lifestyle choices will surely put patients on the right path to a lifetime of healthy vision.
About the Author
Dr. Timothy Earley joined Medina Vision Centre in 1998. He was born and raised in Honesdale, PA and earned his Bachelor’s degree in Biology/Pre-Med from the University of Scranton. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Visual Science and his Doctorate in Optometry from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry. Dr. Earley is a national speaker and consultant on age-related macular degeneration, specialty contacts and practice management.