Air Pollution From Cars Linked to Degenerative Eye Disease

Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

The effects of pollution on human health are often subtle yet wide-reaching. Case in point, a new study out Tuesday seems to show that heavy exposure to certain automobile fumes can raise the risk of developing a degenerative disease that steadily erodes eyesight.

The disease is known as age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. AMD is characterized by the progressive destruction of the macula, a part of the retina that lets us see straight ahead with clear, sharp focus. The progression of AMD can vary, with some people experiencing little problems with their vision for many years, while others quickly worsen. Though the disease doesn’t cause complete blindness, it’s overall one of the leading causes of irreversible vision loss in people over the age of 50.

Like many degenerative diseases, AMD can be caused by several risk factors. Age is obviously a major contributor, but genetics and environment play big roles, too. White Americans over the age of 50, for instance, are twice as likely to have AMD (2.1 percent of the over 50 population) than people of any other race (0.9 percent).

According to the authors of the new study, published in the BMJ, there’s been little to no research on how air pollution could affect our chances of getting AMD. Some studies have shown that air pollution exposure can increase the risk of eye problems such as conjunctivitis and dry eye. Smoking is also thought to double the risk of developing AMD.

The researchers, based in China, looked at national health data from the country and cross-referenced it with air quality data. The health records of people over 50, in addition to determining if they were ever diagnosed with AMD during a 11-year time period leading up to 2010, were used to roughly…

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