Ask the doctors
Q. I have a family history of macular degeneration. Is there any way I can prevent it?
A. Macular degeneration is a common eye condition that typically manifests in people over age 50. It damages the macula of the eye, which is located near the center of the retina, and can lead to vision loss. The macula is the part of the eye that helps you see objects that are right in front of you. When this area is damaged, you may see spots or your vision may get blurry or dark. These changes might make it more difficult for you to drive or perform other everyday activities.
Macular degeneration can run in families, so if you have relatives with the condition, you may be at higher risk of developing it yourself. However, the good news is that modifiable risk factors also play an important role when it comes to developing macular degeneration. According to the National Eye Institute, you can reduce your risk by quitting smoking. Smoking cigarettes can double your risk of the condition. Also, try to maintain a healthy blood pressure, act to lower high cholesterol, and eat a healthy diet, one high in nutrients from green leafy vegetables and fish.
Not only are these recommendations beneficial when it comes to preventing macular degeneration, they are good, healthy practices for any individual. There is also evidence that certain nutritional supplements may slow the progression of macular degeneration in some instances. Discuss preventive strategies and early detection with your doctor if macular degeneration runs in your family. And getting a regular eye exam is a good idea, even for people without a family history of the condition.
— by Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Hye-Chun Hur, M.D., M.P.H.
Editors in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch