Are you concerned about your eyesight? If you’re struggling with small print, everything looks blurry, or you’ve developed blind spots, it’s definitely worth a trip to the optician. And you won’t be alone, considering over 70% of the UK need to wear glasses or contacts to see well. Especially once you’ve hit the big 4-0 when it’s completely normal for your eye's focusing ability to decline. However, while changes to your eyesight are common, it's very important to find out what’s causing them, particularly if they are due to macular AMD.
AMD or Age-related macular degeneration is very often the culprit behind sight issues and the leading cause of vision loss in people over 50. It affects over 700,000 people in the UK, usually later in life, but it's not unheard of for younger people to experience AMD too. A progressive eye disease that gets worse over time, it's good to get a diagnosis as early as you can so you can take steps to help slow down your sight loss.
What is macular AMD and the symptoms to look out for?
The root cause of macular AMD is damage to the cells in a specific part of your retina (an area at the back of the eye), called the macula. The macula is essential to see clearly, because it contains special types of cells called cones which help you see colour and fine detail.
There are two types of AMD, dry and wet. Dry macular AMD (the most common, accounting for 90% of cases), occurs when your macula cells have been damaged by free radicals. These are pesky unstable compounds found everywhere both in and outside of your body. The damaged cells eventually die and are not replaced. And destruction of macula cells leads to blurring or distortion in the central part of your vision. Text may look wiggly, so reading a book can become impossible. The loss of vision can become so serious you could might struggle with watching TV or recognising familiar faces.
If you have wet AMD, you'll experience much the same symptoms. Wet AMD happens when tiny blood vessels growing into the macula and leak blood or fluid, which then damage the macula and cause scarring.
How do you get diagnosed with Macular AMD and what are the treatments?
Experienced any problems with your vision? A trip to the optician is a great first step to get ANY eyesight problem diagnosed and treated. However, be mindful that if it is macular AMD you’re dealing with, it will take more than a snazzy new pair of specs to correct your vision. Although glasses can help to maximise the sight you do have. That’s because unfortunately, there's currently no cure for AMD.
Don’t panic though! If you do have AMD, there’s good news too! There are lots of practical things you can do to prevent the disease in the first place and slow its progression down.
1. Take an antioxidant-rich supplement:
Macular AMD happens when free radicals damage the cells in your eyes. So it makes sense to target them with antioxidants. Antioxidants are super stable molecules that donate an electron to rampaging free radicals and neutralise them, reducing their capacity to damage. Protecting your precious macula cells and your overall eyesight.
Research has shown that taking a high-dose supplement of antioxidants, in particular zinc, vitamins C and E, and Lutein and zeaxanthin can help to improve eye health and reverse damage to the macula in people with AMD. You'll find antioxidants in fruit like blueberries and cherries and veg like sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, and kale.
It's great to increase your quota of these foods. But, as you're probably aware, you'd have to eat mountains of kale to get the right amount ingested to make a difference to your eyes. And if you have any malabsorption issues, forget about the good stuff getting to where you need it most – sigh. Don't panic though, you can benefit from all these eye-protecting goodies by popping on our Eye Health patch. Everything you need to preserve your vision and look after your sight in one easy-to-use patch – job done!
Our fave neuro-scientist Andrew Huberman (more from him later) also recommends Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D to keep your eye health tip top. And we just happen to have a handy patch for both these nutrients too – you'll find Omega 3 here and vitamin D here.
2. Give red light therapy a go:
While there's no cure for macular AMD currently, red light therapy has been getting a lot of attention for positive results in treating people with macular degeneration. Looking at a low-level red light each day can help to protect and support your retina. It seems red light helps to lower light-related eye stress, promote contrast sensitivity, lower cell death and inflammation in the cells in your eye, and improve your visual acuity. Wow!
A study showed that red light therapy appears to produce significant improvements for people in the early stages of dry AMD. Even better, the improvements lasted approximately 6 months, when the participants tried red light therapy again, with the same result. So, it's well worth a go if you have AMD.
3. Avoid blue light:
When it comes to macular AMD red light = good, blue light, not so much. While blue light exposure certainly doesn't cause AMD, excessive blue light, especially from digital screens, can contribute to eye strain and potentially exacerbate AMD symptoms. Plus, blue light at the wrong time of day can disrupt your sleep and circadian rhythms, and studies have linked poorer quality sleep to your risk of developing the disease.
Busy lives and how we like to spend our leisure time (boxset binge anyone?) mean blue light exposure is pretty much inevitable daily. But there are steps you can take to limit your exposure. Why not invest in a blue light filter for your screens, or try wearing blue light-blocking glasses when you're watching TV? Your eyes will thank you later.
4. Be sure to get some sunlight each day:
While artificial light sources can put a strain on your eyes and increase macular AMD symptoms, exposure to natural light can help to improve your vision according to neuroscientist Andrew Huberman. The cone cells involved in AMD are used for bright daytime vision, so by exposing them to sunlight you are training them! Think of exposing your eyes to sunlight as a special eye workout, which will help them become stronger and function better.
To try this tip, get as much sunlight as you can during the day without sunglasses. Don't look directly at the sun, instead, look off in the distance at farther objects. Studies have shown that while too much sun may cause skin damage, it's very unlikely to trigger macular degeneration. So make sure you've applied a high SPF and out in the sunshine you go!
5. Exercise can help with macular AMD too:
It's not just supplements that can give your eyes an antioxidant boost. When you exercise regularly you also increase the level of antioxidants in the eye, which help take down the free radicals and enhance your retinas’ self-repair abilities. Plus physical activity is a great way to counter high cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar – some of the risk factors for macular AMD.
Andrew Huberman recommends a combination of cardiovascular exercise and resistance training if you want to really ramp up your antioxidant levels. A brisk walk or run one day, followed by some gentle weight training the day after fits the bill.
6. Optimise your sleep and stress management:
Like so many aspects of wellbeing, quality sleep, and stress management are crucial for eye health. Poor sleep and chronic stress can contribute to inflammation, which may worsen macular AMD.
If you're struggling with insomnia (like around 50% of over-50s!) it's easier said and done to suddenly score some great quality snooze time. But, meditation and relaxation techniques can help manage you to manage stress and improve your sleep. Or why not try some of the stress-reducing hacks in Huberman's brilliant toolkit for managing stress and anxiety here?