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Inflammation and Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Keep your eyes and body healthy with these anti-inflammatory lifestyle habits.

Inflammation and Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of permanent vision loss for older adults—more than glaucoma and cataracts combined. When a person has AMD, the part of the retina in the back of the eye, called the macula, starts to deteriorate due to deposits of cellular waste (called drusen). This can lead to central vision loss, which makes it difficult to read, drive, or see faces.

The causes of AMD are not well understood. Researchers think that the condition occurs due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. But there is strong evidence that AMD is at least partially caused by inflammation in the body.

Inflammation’s impact on the body
Short-term inflammation is normal and healthy, helping our bodies fight infections and repair damage. When inflammation is chronic, it becomes a problem. Chronic inflammation is associated with the development of numerous age-related medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis—and AMD.

In addition to AMD, inflammation may be tied to other eye problems. One example is uveitis—swelling and inflammation in the middle layer of the eye that can damage eye tissues. Another example is diabetic retinopathy, a complication that occurs when diabetes damages the blood vessels of the retina.

Habits that hurt and help inflammation
Although you can’t avoid aging, there are many ways that you can help reduce inflammation. These strategies can also lower your risk of AMD—or help keep AMD from getting worse.

  • Smoking. This is the biggest risk factor for AMD. People who smoke are twice as likely to develop AMD as those who don’t. If you smoke, quitting can help preserve your vision.
  • Diet. Diets that are high in red meat are linked to both inflammation and AMD.  On the other hand, eating fish like salmon, sardines, or tuna twice a week, along with lots of fruits and vegetables, is linked with lower inflammation and a lower risk of AMD.
  • High blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure is a risk factor for developing wet AMD, the more severe version of the condition. High blood pressure can lead to a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply the eye's retina. Studies also show that inflammation may trigger high blood pressure. To keep your blood pressure in a healthy range, it's important to eat a heart-healthy diet, lower your salt intake, and stay physically active.
  • Oral health. This one may not be obvious, but good dental health can help reduce inflammation in your body. Bacteria build-up on the teeth can cause the gums to become infected and inflamed. This can spread to the blood stream, causing inflammation in the blood vessels. You can prevent this by brushing and flossing daily and keeping up with regular dental cleanings.

A healthy lifestyle can go a long way to helping you reduce overall inflammation in your body and reduce your risk of inflammation-related disease. If you have AMD, it may also help you preserve your vision. Remember, the most important step you can take to keeping your eyes healthy is to work with your eye doctor and other healthcare providers, and follow your AMD treatment plan.

Medically reviewed in August 2021.

Sources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Common Eye Disorders and Diseases."
National Eye Institute. "Age-Related Macular Degeneration."
American Macular Degeneration Foundation. "What is Macular Degeneration?"
Joshua Dunaief. "The Immune System and Macular Degeneration." Bright Focus Foundation.
National Eye Institute. "Uveitis."
Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO). "Uveitis and scleritis patients at higher risk of developing age-related macular degeneration."
Ming-Shan He, Fang-Ling Chang. "The Association Between Diabetes and Age-Related Macular Degeneration Among the Elderly in Taiwan." Diabetes Care, 2018. Vol. 41, No. 10.
SightMatters. "The Best Foods for AMD."
Winchester Hospital. "High Blood Pressure Linked to Inflammation."
Cleveland Clinic ClevelandHeartLab. "5 Everyday Habits to Lower Inflammation and Help Your Heart and Brain Health."
Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Fight Inflammation to Help Prevent Heart Disease."

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