WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR AGE-RELATED EYE DISEASE?
In addition to the environmental assaults and behaviors that impact our eyes, there are several risk factors for eye conditions that affect our vision. Having these risk factors doesn’t mean that vision impairment is unavoidable, but it does mean we need to pay extra attention to our eye health.
Age is a principal cause of both age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. The critical role age plays in eye disease can clearly be seen in a simple statistic: 82 percent of those who are blind are over the age of 50.
In one study, prevalence of cataracts increased from 1 percent at the age of 60 to 12 percent in those aged 65–69.1 While the evidence isn’t as strong, research has also shown that the incidence of glaucoma increases with aging.
While we can’t prevent aging, we can take charge of our eye health by doing things that protect our vision, like making sure that our diet contains certain important nutrients.
Being overweight or obese has been linked to an increased incidence of various eye conditions that effect vision. Some of these conditions may arise as a secondary effect of other health issues also caused by obesity. For example, obesity leads to higher rates of inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which can lead to AMD.2 In addition, some of the nutrients that play an important role in eye health may be taken up by fat cells and not get to the eye as needed.
Unfortunately, weight loss does not seem to improve eye conditions once they appear, so eye health is another reason to maintain a healthy weight throughout our lives.
Poor health can damage our eyes in many ways. Diabetes has often been associated with eye disease, since those with the disease are prone to a condition called diabetic retinopathy, which damages the blood vessels to the retina. But diabetics also suffer from other eye conditions—they often develop cataracts at an earlier age than non-diabetics and are twice as likely to develop glaucoma as non-diabetics.
For those living with heart disease, the main concern is preventing heart attacks and stroke. However, poor circulation and high blood pressure will harm the blood vessels both to and within our eyes.
It’s simple: women develop cataracts and suffer from AMD more so than men. Therefore, although it is imperative for both genders to take care of their eyes, women need to be even more vigilant when taking preventative measures to maintain normal vision.
People with a family history of either cataracts or macular degeneration have a higher risk for those conditions. In fact, heredity is the single greatest risk factor for cataracts, accounting for approximately 50 percent of the cases.
Eyes with dark brown irises have been found in one study to have a higher risk of some types of cataracts than eyes with lighter-colored irises.3 With AMD, it’s just the opposite: individuals with light-colored eyes are more likely to be affected by AMD. This may be because lighter eyes offer less protection from damaging UV light.
Different races and ethnicities may be more susceptible to some eye diseases than others. For example, non-Hispanic Caucasians have a higher risk for AMD than non-whites. African Americans and Hispanics have higher rates of diabetes and, as a result, a greater incidence of diabetic retinopathy. African Americans also have a higher risk for cataracts and a high risk of becoming blind from cataracts. These differences may be related to differences in the shape and color of the eye.4
People with myopia, nearsightedness, have a greater chance for developing cataracts than those with normal vision or farsightedness.
1 Eye Health Literature Review
2 Cheung, Surv Ophthal, 2007, Mar-Apr 52(2) 180-95
3 Blue Mountain Study
4 American Academy of Ophthalmology