Alcohol consumption may be a modifiable risk factor for age-related macular degeneration

Even though Dry January is over, new research suggests you may want to consider keeping the no-alcohol challenge going all year, especially if you're among the nearly 2 million Americans who have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a sight-threatening eye condition.

A recent study published in Current Eye Research evaluated seven studies looking at the relationship between alcohol consumption and AMD. The researchers found that moderate to high alcohol consumption was linked to a higher incidence of early AMD, compared with people who didn't drink or who drank occasionally.

We already knew that lifestyle choices can help prevent AMD. Now we also know that alcohol consumption may be another modifiable risk factor we can control to lower the risk of developing this potentially blinding eye disease."

Dianna Seldomridge, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology

Why should people with AMD or at risk of developing AMD be concerned about alcohol consumption? AMD is the most common cause of blindness in Americans over the age of 50, affecting about 2.1 million people nationwide. As the population ages, the estimated number of people with AMD is expected to more than double to 5.44 million by 2050.

AMD is a degenerative disease that damages the macula, part of the retina responsible for central vision. Over time, the loss of central vision can interfere with everyday activities, such as the ability to drive, read, and see faces clearly.

While genetics do play a part in the development of AMD, there are several lifestyle choices you can make to decrease your chances of losing vision to AMD, including:

  1. Healthy eating. Ever heard the old saying about carrots being good for the eyes? It's true. So are leafy greens, colorful fruits and vegetables, and fatty fish. Eating a vitamin-rich diet can help protect your vision against age-related macular degeneration and other eye diseases.
  1. Manage your body weight and overall health. Hypertension, high cholesterol, and heart disease are all risk factors for age-related macular degeneration. Exercise is a good way to combat some of these health risks.
  1. Don't smoke. Studies show smokers are more likely to get eye diseases including AMD, compared with people who never smoked.
  1. Get your eyes dilated by an ophthalmologist. During this routine exam, an ophthalmologist will be able to spot eye diseases early -; sometimes before you notice any symptoms -; and get you the best care to protect your vision. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends all healthy adults get a comprehensive eye exam by age 40 to screen for blinding eye diseases.

For more information about eye health, visit the Academy's EyeSmart website.

Some seniors may be eligible for a free eye exam

For individuals age 65 or older who are concerned about their risk of eye disease, you may be eligible for a medical eye exam, often at no out-of-pocket cost, through the American Academy of Ophthalmology's EyeCare America® program. This public service program matches volunteer ophthalmologists with eligible patients in need of eye care across the United States. To see if you or a loved one qualifies, visit EyeCare America to determine your eligibility. EyeCare America is co-sponsored by the Knights Templar Eye Foundation Inc., with additional support provided by Alcon.

Journal reference:

Zhang, J., et al. (2021) Alcohol Consumption and Age-related Macular Degeneration: A Systematic Review and Dose–response Meta-analysis. Current Eye Research.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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