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Jan 26, 2021
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Air pollution linked to risk of progressive vision loss

What is age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (macular degeneration) is a thinning of the part of the retina of the eye (macula), which is responsible for the clearest vision. It is manifested by a progressive deterioration (clouding) of central vision. It is one of the leading causes of vision loss over the age of 50. It is estimated that 200 million people suffered from this problem in 2020, and by 2040 this number may increase to 300 million.

The causes of macular degeneration are poorly unknown, but scientists do know its risk factors. The combination of smoking, genetic predisposition and being overweight increases the risk of developing it by 19 times. Since smoking is a well-established risk factor for dystrophy, scientists have suggested that air pollution may also be a risk factor.

Air pollution and eye health

Air pollution is one of the most important external factors that pose health risks. It is known that it is associated with the likelihood of death from diseases of the lungs, cardiovascular system and a number of other problems. The relationship between eye health and pollution is also being studied. It may play a role in glaucoma. One study has previously shown a link between road traffic pollution and the risk of age-related macular degeneration.

The harmful health effects of air pollution are likely related to inflammation and oxidative stress. The retina of the eye is especially sensitive to such influences. It is damaged by oxidative stress, which is considered one of the mechanisms of development of age-related macular degeneration.

New research

Scientists have processed data from the British Biobank (UK Biobank) on the health and living conditions of 155 thousand people. The study participants were 40-69 years old in 2006 and had no eye disease at the time. They were asked to tell scientists if a doctor diagnosed them with age-related macular degeneration. About a third of the study participants had a retinal examination, which is required to diagnose this disease.

To account for the level of air pollution, scientists used data from the Environmental Determinants of Health Project. It turned out that an increase in air pollution with fine particles for each microgram per cubic meter is associated with an 8% increase in the risk of age-related macular degeneration. At the same time, small particles do not exceed 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

“The average age of the participants was about 60 years old. This small increase of 8% is likely to grow over time, ”commented Professor Robert MacLaren of the University of Oxford. According to him, “This UK study is similar to the 2019 Taiwanese study. The fact that two unrelated studies came to similar conclusions increases confidence that this is a real connection, ”Professor Chris Inglehearn of the University of Leeds, who was not involved in the study, told The Guardian.


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