Every day ten thousand Americans turn 65, and as many of them know by now, getting older means keeping a closer eye on their health — especially their eye health.
A leading cause of vision loss in North America in people over 50 is Age Related Macular Degeneration, or AMD. AMD is a medical condition that results in loss of vision in the center of the visual field, also known as the macula. Damage to the retina is to blame.
Dr. Mary Boname, of Montgomery Eye Care, knows AMD well. She sees it in her patients all the time.
“People who have AMD can struggle with such essential functions as reading or recognizing faces,” Dr. Boname said. “Patients rely on their peripheral vision to get through the day.”
As the population ages, Dr. Boname says, AMD is reaching epidemic proportions. Some sources report as many as 210,000 new cases each year in the U.S. One reason for the epidemic is the cause, which is literally all around us: it’s light.
Ultraviolet light, which is not visible to the human eye, can cause damage to our skin or the surface of the eye, but UV doesn’t reach the retina. The cornea and lens, which are susceptible to UV damage, blocks the rays, so only visible light reaches the retina. Most people think that visible light is harmless, but there is an exception. Blue light, which when it reaches the retina, can cause oxidative damage.
Blue light is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye as the color blue. One needs look no further than the sky on a sunny day to see it. But there’s an insidious new hazard, and it’s growing every day, says Dr. Boname. Fluorescent lights, which are more common than ever, emit high levels of blue light, and thanks to modern televisions, computer screens and phones, they are all around us. Over time, exposure to blue light causes oxidation in the retinas of unsuspecting adults.
“People ask me, ‘What does that mean, oxidative damage?’” Dr. Boname says. “Think of it as rust. What oxidation does to a car bumper –– that’s what’s happening to the retina of someone with AMD.”
When consulting with patients on AMD, Dr. Boname goes over the known risk factors to assess how likely they may be to suffer from AMD. Some are genetic or hereditary: if your parents or siblings have it, for example, you are more likely to get it. It affects Caucasians more than other races, and also affects people more who have shown a sensitivity to light.
However, as Dr. Boname notes, there are also many causes of AMD that are within her patients’ control. Among them are smoking, diet, and exposure to the sun.
“Studies have shown that smoking triples the risk of AMD,” Dr. Boname says. “But a diet lacking in fruits and green vegetables, or spending an excessive amount of time outside, especially without sunglasses, is also to blame.”
Dr. Boname said patients over the age of 35 should be cognizant of the risks and symptoms of AMD. Some 10 percent of Americans over the age of 50 show symptoms of AMD. For patients over 75, the rate increases to 30 percent.
“Our goal is education and prevention –– to keep our patients from ever having AMD,” she said. “But if we start treatment early enough, we can help those with AMD maintain a quality of life through therapy and drugs even once the process has started. People don’t need to suffer.”
Montgomery Eye Care offers patients comprehensive eye care, plus a large variety of glasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses. The office is open Monday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Tuesday: CLOSED; Wednesday and Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hours may vary near holidays, so call or check out the front door, where any changes also will be posted.
Montgomery Eye Care, 1325 Route 206, Suite 24, Skillman. 609-279-0005. www.mecnj.com. See ad, page 24.