IT’S NEVER too late to ditch cigarettes: giving up smoking, even in older age, could help protect your eyesight, according to new research.
The US study found that smoking increased the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) among a cohort of women in their 80s.
Smoking is a known risk factor for developing the condition, where cells in the macula at the back of the eye progressively lose function. AMD affects central vision and is the most common cause of registered blindness in the developed world, affecting an estimated one in 10 people over the age of 50.
The new study of AMD and smoking in older age tracked eye health over five years in a group of more than 1,700 women attending an osteoporosis clinic. Researchers took retinal images in individuals at age 78 and again at age 83. Within the study group, 4 per cent were smokers.
Among the women aged over 80, those who smoked were 5.5 times more likely to develop AMD than women of the same age who did not smoke, the study found.
“Our finding of a greater-than-additive risk of early AMD associated with current smoking among subjects [at or over] 80 years leads us to conclude that even older individuals stand to benefit from quitting smoking,” wrote the researchers in the current edition of the American Journal of Ophthalmology.
“The take-home message is that it’s never too late to quit smoking,” said lead author Anne Coleman, professor of ophthalmology at University of California Los Angeles. “We found that even older people’s eyes will benefit from kicking the habit.”
She noted that while age is the strongest predictor for AMD, most research in the field to date has been conducted in people younger than 75: “This research provides the first accurate snapshot of how smoking affects AMD risk later in life.”
The study highlights the risk of continuing to smoke even in older age, said Avril Daly, general manager of the Irish charity Fighting Blindness, which funds research into AMD risk factors, prevention and treatment.
“Many studies of the over-50s suggest that after age, smoking is the second major factor in the development of but this risk declines when a person stops smoking,” she said.
“The study from the University of California, Los Angeles, is particularly interesting as it focused on a much older population and has proven that, regardless of age, quitting smoking can help to decrease the risk of developing AMD and will lead to better vision and therefore a greater independence for longer,” Ms Daly said.
By CLAIRE O’CONNELL