Risk Factors

Everyone is at risk for developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), but there are certain factors that increase the risk – some of which can be controlled, while others can’t.

Uncontrollable risk factors

These factors occur naturally and cannot be controlled or changed:

  • Age: The older you are, the greater your chance of developing AMD.

  • Family history: Your risk increases significantly if your parents, grandparents or siblings have AMD.

  • Ethnicity: Caucasian individuals are more likely to develop AMD than any other ethnic groups.

Controllable risk factors

Fortunately, there are several risk factors that can be managed by making simple lifestyle changes, which can help slow the progression of vision loss. These include:

  • staying smoke-free. Being exposed to primary and second-hand smoke is a major risk factor for AMD. In fact, people who smoke are up to four times more likely to develop AMD than people who don’t. Smokers may also develop the disease about 10 years earlier than non-smokers. For those who have AMD, up to 20 per cent of vision loss may be avoided by staying smoke-free. If you’re a smoker, contact your family doctor to get support to help you quit. It has been shown that your risk will decrease for every year you stay off cigarettes, so that after 20 years your risk is no higher than someone who has never smoked.

  • eating a healthy diet. Diet plays an important role in overall well-being, and it’s no different for your eyes. For the health of your eyes and the prevention of AMD:

    • ​eat lots of dark green, leafy vegetables.
    • decrease your consumption of processed and packaged foods.
    • consume omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in food sources like fish and flaxseed oil.
  • being physically active. Exercising and controlling your body weight reduces your risk of developing AMD.

  • managing your blood pressure. High blood pressure may increase your risk of developing AMD. For tips on managing your blood pressure, visit The Heart and Stroke Foundation.

  • maintaining a healthy weight. A healthy diet and regular physical activity contribute to maintaining a healthy weight. Have regular physical exams with your family doctor to monitor your weight and ensure you’re not at risk of obesity.

  • protecting your eyes from UV rays. Wear a hat with a brim and sunglasses with at least 99 per cent UV protection year-round to reduce exposure to the sun’s harmful rays, which can damage the retina.  

  • taking vitamin supplements. If you have intermediate dry AMD, taking a special high-dose formulation of antioxidants and zinc, called the AREDS formulation, can help reduce the risk of advanced AMD and vision loss. Slowing AMD’s progression from the intermediate stage to the advanced stage helps many people reduce vision loss.

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