Air pollution is linked to a heightened risk of progressive and irreversible sight loss, known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a new study suggests. The findings, published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, indicate that people in the most polluted areas were at least 8% more likely to report having AMD. “Our findings suggest that living in an area with polluted air, particularly fine particulate matter or combustion-related particles that come from road traffic, could contribute to eye disease,” said lead author, Paul Foster, Professor at University College London in the UK.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness among over-50s in richer nations, with roughly 300 million people predicted to be affected by 2040. Known risk factors include age, smoking and genetic make-up. Now researchers have drawn a link between AMD and air pollution, which is already known to carry a host of health risks including heart and lung disease.
The researchers drew on data from 115,954 UK Biobank (UKBB) study participants aged 40-69 with no eye problems at the start of this study in 2006. Measures of ambient air pollution included those for particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Of the total number of study participants, 1,286 were diagnosed with AMD, according to the researchers.
Among the 52,602 people whose eyes had been assessed, 75 per cent of those with a clinical diagnosis of AMD had signs of AMD on retinal imaging compared to only 12 per cent of those without a clinical diagnosis of AMD.
Analysis of the data showed that higher fine particulate matter (PM2.5 ) exposure was associated with a higher (8 per cent) risk of AMD, while all other pollutants, except coarse particulate matter, were associated with changes in retinal structure. The researchers noted that it is an observational study, and as such, can’t establish the cause., adding the findings, however, echo those found elsewhere in the world. They suggest ambient air pollution could plausibly be associated with AMD through oxidative stress or inflammation.