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Is Macular Degeneration Genetic?

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is an age-related eye illness that can damage your central vision. Unfortunately, if there is a history of AMD in your family, then your own risk of developing the disease is higher.

What is AMD?

Age-related Macular Degeneration, as the name suggests, damages the macula and most often affects those 50 or older. The macula is located near the centre of the retina and is responsible for helping us see objects in fine detail.

AMD is classified as the most common cause of vision loss for Irish people over the age of 50, with about 100,000 people affected by it. So it’s important to be aware of the risk factors and what you can do to give yourself the best chance of avoiding it.

For some, with dry AMD it develops so gradually that it’s difficult to tell you even have the condition or to notice that your vision is deteriorating. For others, wet AMD can set in quickly and lead to vision loss on a much shorter timeline.

On its own, AMD does not cause blindness, but it can create complications for those leading an active lifestyle. Because the macula allows us to see things clearly, damage to the macula can make it difficult to read, drive, or discern individual faces. After a time, it’s possible for AMD to leave blank spots in your field of vision.

What are the risk factors of Macular Degeneration?

Anyone can develop AMD, but environmental variables such as lifestyle and diet play a major role in an individual’s risk. And it’s clear that genetic factors have a lot of influence on when AMD might start and how it progresses.

There is no known cure for AMD and it’s not possible to tell with 100% certainty whether someone will develop the condition. However, there are risk factors that may indicate a predisposition toward AMD — some preventable and others not.

For instance, smoking increases your chances of developing AMD two to three times. Unprotected exposure to sunlight — blue wavelengths specifically — can cause damage to the macula that can lead to AMD. Your diet also plays an important role. Those who eat a lot of artificial fats and processed foods, who have high cholesterol, and who don’t consume enough vegetables increase their odds of vision loss through AMD.

Is AMD hereditary?

Unfortunately, genetics do play a role in AMD. While a family history of the condition doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop it too, your chances are higher than someone whose parents do not have AMD. Experts say that, if a parent or sibling has AMD, you’re three to four times more likely to develop it yourself.

Genetics and environmental/ lifestyle factors can influence on our chances of developing macular degeneration

The below graph shows the significant impact that good lifestyle choices can have on your likelihood of developing the disease.  While you may be genetically predisposed to develop AMD at 50, with right changes to your environmental risks, such as nutrition, smoking, lifestyle and exposure to sunlight, you could push out the age you develop macular degeneration by 10 or 20 years (if at all)!


graph showing is Macular Degeneration genetic

Macular Degeneration is in my family, what should I do?

If you are worried about potentially developing AMD, there are some things you can do now to help minimise your risk.

  1. Get your eyes tested every year and make sure you tell your optometrist that AMD is in your family.
  2. Try to follow a ‘Mediterranean Diet’ rich in carotenoids as much as possible – eat a couple servings of fatty fish weekly, lots of colourful veggies and fruits, olive oil and dark leafy greens daily. Avoid too much red meat and processed fatty foods and sugar.
  3. Avoid smoking.
  4. Wear sunglasses. The UV rays and blue rays damage the photoreceptor cells and cones in our eyes.
  5. Pay close attention to your eyes and any changes in your vision. It’s a good idea to test your eyes every day using an Amsler Grid Test.

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