Air pollution can cause irreversible sight loss


  • Findings from a large UK study revealed that air pollution may raise someone’s chances of contracting age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that progresses to sight loss.
  • Involving at least 115,000 respondents, the study found that even low exposure to ambient air pollutants generated an 8 percent increased risk of developing AMD.
  • AMD affects the central vision which is important for reading and performing fine, detailed tasks.

Air pollution could increase the odds of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which eventually leads to vision loss, according to findings of a UK study published Monday in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.  

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the top cause of blindness among people over 50 in high-income nations and is predicted to affect about 300 million people worldwide by 2040. The condition is associated with the loss of central vision, which is needed for activities like reading, driving, detailed tasks and recognizing faces. Its biggest risk factors include age, genetics and smoking.

Now, researchers found evidence of a link between air pollution and AMD.

Scientists assessed data from more than 115,000 participants aged 40-69 with no reported eye problems when the study started in 2006. Using official traffic information combined with levels of nitrous oxide and small particulate matter, the annual average air pollution levels at the participants’ residential addresses were estimated.

Follow-ups in 2009 and 2012 were also done including AMD diagnosis by a doctor and tests on sight performances. By the end of the study period, 1286 people were diagnosed with AMD.

After adjusting for potentially influencing factors like underlying medical conditions and lifestyle, exposure to fine particulate pollutants raised an individual’s chances of contracting AMD by 8 percent.

“Overall, our findings suggest that ambient air pollution, especially fine (particulate matter) or those of combustion-related particles, may affect AMD risk,” wrote the study authors.

Additionally, the study outcomes also provided further evidence of the detrimental effects of ambient air pollution even with a relatively low exposure.

However, the researchers stressed that since the study was observational, it could only show the relationship between AMD and air pollution. Despite this, experts said it still showed the impacts of poor air quality on human health. 

At least 7 million people are estimated to die from air pollution every year, says the World Health Organization (WHO), adding that most deaths are largely due to stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and chronic respiratory diseases.

Meanwhile, an independent study last week suggested that by lowering air pollution to WHO-recommended limits, the number of deaths occurring yearly in Europe may be minimized. 

Source: France24

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