A large long term study has concluded that air pollution is linked to a heightened risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Air pollution has been implicated in brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and stroke, and linked to elevated glaucoma risk. Particulate matter exposure is one of the strongest predictors of mortality among air pollutants.
UCL Institute of Ophthalmology researchers drew on data from 115,954 UK Biobank study participants aged 40–69 with no eye problems at the start of this study in 2006. Participants were asked to report any formal diagnosis of AMD by a doctor. Structural changes in the thickness and/or numbers of light receptors in the retina were assessed in 52,602 of the participants, for whom complete data were available in 2009 and 2012, using optical coherence tomography.
Measures of ambient air pollution included those for particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Official information on traffic, land use, and topography was used to calculate the annual average air pollution levels at participants’ home addresses.
People in areas with higher levels of fine particulate matter pollution were more likely to report having AMD (8% difference in AMD risk between people living in the 25th and 75th percentiles of pollution levels), after accounting for potentially influential factors such as underlying health conditions and lifestyle. All pollutants, except coarse particulate matter, were associated with changes in retinal structure.
First author Dr Sharon Chua said higher levels of air pollution may cause the cells to be more vulnerable to adverse changes and increase the risk of AMD.
Chua SYL, Warwick A, Peto T, Balaskas K, Moore AT, Reisman C, Desai P, Lotery AJ, Dhillon B, Khaw PT, Owen CG, Khawaja AP, Foster PJ, Patel PJ.Association of ambient air pollution with age-related macular degeneration and retinal thickness in UK Biobank. British Jounral of Ophthalmologybjo.bmj.com/content/early/2021/01/11/bjophthalmol-2020-316218