Of the list of aches, pains and ailments you’re more likely to experience after your 50th birthday, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a particularly serious one. A leading cause of vision loss in the 50+ population, AMD affects the part of the eye needed to view objects straight in front of you in sharp focus.
AMD does not lead to complete blindness, but it can interfere with everyday activities like driving, reading and cooking. While there’s no cure, simple lifestyle changes offer hope to the estimated 8 million Americans at risk of developing the condition and 2 million U.S. adults who have been diagnosed.
AMD causes damage to the macula, a small, sensitive spot in the retina. Such damage can make objects in your forward line of vision appear blurry, distorted or dark. In “dry” AMD—the most common form of the condition—the damage results from a breakdown or thinning of the layer of retinal pigment epithelial cells in the macula. In “wet” AMD, a more severe form, abnormal blood vessels leak blood into the region of the macula (wet AMD is typically preceded by dry AMD). In its early and intermediate stages, AMD may pose no symptoms, but as it progresses, vision loss can become noticeable in one or both eyes.
People with a family history are at higher risk for the condition, as are smokers. “Smoking causes oxidative stress, which is part of the root cause of AMD,” says Jeffry D. Gerson, O.D., F.A.A.O., a VSP Vision Care optometrist with WestGlen Eyecare in Shawnee, Kan. “Stopping smoking can help to lower risk moving forward. It is never too late to stop!”
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Other ways of reducing your risk include regular exercise, maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol, and proper nutrition. “In general, the things that a cardiologist would tell somebody are heart healthy are also ‘eye healthy’ and may prevent AMD,” Gerson says.
Diet in particular plays a powerful role, he adds. “When it comes to AMD, the most important foods are green leafy vegetables that contain lutein and zeaxanthin,” Gerson says. Not only do they help with prevention, these carotenoids, which are related to beta-carotene and vitamin A, can keep early stage AMD from advancing. “Eating just 6mg a day of lutein and zeaxanthin combined may decrease the odds of advanced AMD by 40 percent,” he says. That amount can be found in two cups of raw spinach; kale, collard greens and turnip greens are also rich sources of these nutrients.
“Since most people don’t eat enough of these or other vegetables, it is often appropriate and necessary to take an eye-specific supplement,” Gerson says. Indeed, a study led by the National Institutes of Health’s National Eye Institute, Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2), identified a combination of vitamins C and E, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc and copper in supplement form as the optimum formula to slow the progression of dry AMD. “Nutritional support cannot only potentially prevent progression, but also improve visual function and maybe even improve overall quality of life through vision,” Gerson says.
Wearing special blue light-filtering lenses may also help minimize oxidative stress on the eyes. “All digital devices, such as mobile phones and computer screens, emit this blue light,” Gerson adds.
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Distinguishing AMD from other vision problems takes a trained eye. “For a patient, it is often difficult to differentiate between different eye diseases,” Gerson says. An eye doctor can diagnose AMD with a comprehensive, dilated exam. “Vision insurance is invaluable, as it is often what drives people to get routine preventative care. This may be when the earliest signs of AMD are seen or risk factors are discussed,” Gerson says. “The earlier it is detected, the more that can be done to prevent its progression.”
VSP Direct™ is VSP Vision Care’s individual insurance product, offering affordable and high-quality individual vision benefits directly to consumers. Individual vision coverage includes an annual eye exam with a low co-payment, allowance for glasses or contacts, and access to the largest doctor network in the industry with 30,000 doctors—all backed by a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. VSP Direct offers the lowest out-of-pocket costs in individual vision care and a typical annual savings of $235 a year.
For more information, or to view pricing for affordable individual vision care, visit www.VSPIndividualPlans.com