High Air Pollution May Contribute to Vision Loss

Image by Ralf Vetterle from Pixabay

Under the World Health Organization’s programs for bringing down high levels of air pollution, many countries have been able to improve air quality in certain areas. However, recent statistics show that ninety-one percent of the global population is still exposed to pollution in the area despite major victories over the issue.

According to existent research, constant exposure to pollution in the air can cause a number of health issues ranging from respiratory disease and lung cancer to heart-related conditions or even stroke.

It is estimated that issues associated with air pollution are responsible for over four million deaths each year. Now, new research published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology shows that residing in an area with low-quality air may also contribute to vision loss.

More specifically, the scientists discovered that pollution in the air increases the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is among the leading causes of visual impairment in people over the age of fifty around the globe.

In many of the cases, the affected people may also experience irreversible effects including loss of central vision.

To investigate the association of age-related macular degeneration with poor air quality, the scientists sourced data of over 115,954 people from the  UK Biobank study.

All of these participants were between the ages of forty to sixty-nine and did not have any vision-related issues at the beginning of the study in the year 2006. They were also asked to report upon being diagnosed with AMD by their doctors.

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Between 2009 and 2012, 52,602 underwent noninvasive optical coherence tomography (OCT). OCT is a type of retinal imaging test that can help in detecting any changes in the structure or the number of light receptors in the retina. Both of these are conventional symptoms of age-related macular degeneration.

By the end of the research period, 1,286 had received a diagnosis from their doctors while twelve percent of the rest of the participants had been diagnosed with the condition via retinal imaging.

After checking for underlying medical conditions and other lifestyle factors, the scientists found that exposure to particulate matter in the air was linked to an eight percent higher risk of AMD.

In addition, exposure to other forms of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) also contributed to structural changes in the light receptors in the retina.

These findings are important and add to the data present on age-related macular degeneration and potential risk factors. However, it should be noted that the study was observational and only highlights an association.

Therefore, it cannot be said that exposure to high levels of pollution was a direct cause of AMD in the observed participants. Further investigation is needed in the future to understand the association in detail.

Until then, people, especially those over the age of fifty, can effectively avoid age-related macular degeneration by consuming a balanced diet, quitting smoking, and having regular medical checkups.

For avoiding the harmful effects of air pollution, staying indoors and investing in an air purifier can help. Also, try to wear masks all the time when staying in public spaces. This will help in filtering air particles and also avoid the spread of infections including COVID-19.


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