IF YOU NEED A LITTLE EXTRA INCENTIVE to chuck those cigarettes, consider this: A UCLA study finds that even after age 80, smoking continues to increase one’s risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in Americans over 65 years of age.
“The take-home message is that it’s never too late to quit smoking,” says lead author Anne Coleman, M.D., professor of ophthalmology. “We found that even older people’s eyes will benefit from kicking the habit.” The findings were published in The American Journal of Ophthalmology.
AMD causes progressive damage to the macula, the center of the retina, which enables us to see fine details. When the macula degenerates, people experience darkness or blurring in their central vision, preventing them from being able to read, drive and recognize faces. After age, smoking is the second most common risk factor for AMD.
Dr. Coleman and her colleagues followed 1,958 women who underwent retinal photographs at five-year intervals, starting with a baseline exam at age 78. Four percent, or 75 of the women, smoked. The researchers compared the retinal images at ages 78 and 83 to check for the appearance of AMD and evaluate if smoking affected the women’s likelihood of developing the disease.
“Age is the strongest predictor for AMD, yet most research in this field has been conducted in people younger than 75,” Dr. Coleman says. “Our population was considerably older than those previously studied. This research provides the first accurate snapshot of how smoking affects AMD risk later in life.”
Overall, women who smoked had an 11 percent higher rate of AMD than other women their age. In women older than 80, however, those who smoked were five-and-a-half times more likely to develop AMD than women their age who did not smoke.
“The bottom line is that AMD risk increases with age,” Dr. Coleman says. “And if you smoke, your risk of developing the disease rises even more.”