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Did you know exposure to air pollution can lead to permanent vision loss?

Published on:26 January 2021, 20:24pm IST
A British study discovered that exposure to air pollution can increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration—an eye disease that can cause irreversible vision loss.
ANI
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Here’s a side effect of living in a polluted city that no one saw coming. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Smog and polluted air are the hallmarks of an Indian winter. India the second-most polluted city in the world, and while the lockdown did help lower air pollution levels in first half of 2020—the winter once again saw PM 2.5 dominating the air we breathe.

Air pollution can be fatal for people with weak immunity, compromised respiratory system, and co-existing morbidities. Not just that, the air you breathe can also impact your vision. According to researchers, air pollution can increase your risk of age-related macular degeneration.

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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness among over-50s in richer nations, with roughly 300 million people predicted to be affected by 2040. Known risk factors for this disease include age, smoking and genetic make-up.

air pollution effects
The damaging effects of air pollution go beyond just your lungs. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

And now researchers have drawn a link between AMD and air pollution—which is already known to carry a host of health risks including heart and lung disease. Their findings were published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

The link between air pollution and vision loss

Researchers analysed data from more than 115,000 participants who reported no eye problems at the start of the study period in 2006.

Official data on traffic and levels of nitrous oxide and small particulate matter was used to calculate the annual average air pollution levels at the home addresses of the participants.

They were asked to report a formal diagnosis of AMD by a doctor and were tested on their sight performance several years later. In all, 1,286 participants were diagnosed with AMD at the end of the study period.

After accounting for other influencing factors including underlying health conditions and lifestyle, fine particulate matter exposure was associated with an eight-per cent higher risk of an individual contracting AMD.

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


“Our findings add to the growing evidence of the damaging effects of ambient air pollution, even in the setting of relatively low exposure.”

“The association of macular degeneration with smoking is well recognised, but this new finding of an environmental link related to atmospheric pollution will add further to the climate change debate,” said Robert MacLaren, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Oxford.