Air pollution increases risk of irreversible vision loss by up to 8%, according to new study

Air pollution is already a very serious problem worldwide, as it has catastrophic consequences on the health of the population.

Madrid has recently been named the European city with the highest mortality rate caused by car pollution, with 7% of deaths associated with the cause, according to a study by the Institute of Global Health of Catalonia.

Now new research published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology has found that air pollution is associated with a higher risk of progressive irreversible vision loss, according to EurekaAlert!.

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Specifically, people living in these areas with poor air quality were 8% more likely to suffer from AMD, a condition known as age-related macular degeneration.

AMD is a degenerative eye disease that causes severe visual impairment and even irreversible blindness. It generally occurs in people over 50 years old and in smokers.

“Improving the air we breathe should be a key public health priority,” explains Paul Foster, lead author of the study and professor at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. “Our findings suggest that living in an area with polluted air may contribute to eye disease.”

After discovering in 2019 that air pollution was linked to an increased risk of glaucoma, the team analyzed the data of 115,954 participants aged 40-69 who had no eye problems from the UK Biobank study to test their relationship with AMD.

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The results reflected that people living in areas heavily contaminated by fine particles were more likely to suffer from age-related macular degeneration. All contaminants except coarse particles were associated with changes in retinal structure.

“Even relatively low exposure to air pollution appears to increase the risk of AMD, suggesting that air pollution is a major modifiable factor affecting the risk of eye disease in large numbers of people,” said Foster.

To obtain this information, the team relied on observation of structural changes in the thickness and the amount of light receptors in the participants’ retinas using noninvasive optical coherence tomography, or OCT.

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For air pollution measurements, data provided by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit as part of the BioSHaRE-EU Environmental Health Determinants Project was used.

In addition, air pollution has previously been associated with other types of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even strokes.

The data collected cannot currently confirm the exact cause or mechanism that causes AMD, but it could be associated with ambient air pollution through oxidative stress or inflammation.

Studies predict that the number of people affected by air pollution will reach 300 million in 2040, highlighting the urgent need to fight pollution and take care of the environment.

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