People living in the most polluted areas are 8% more likely to develop irreversible sight loss, according to a study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.
Researchers at University College London analysed data from 115,954 UK Biobank study participants aged 40-69 with no eye problems at the start of the study in 2006.
Participants were then asked to report any formal diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by a doctor.
AMD is the leading cause of irreversible blindness among people over 50 in high-income countries.
Official information on traffic, land use and topography were then used to calculate the annual average air pollution levels at participants’ home addresses.
The research team found that people in areas with higher levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution were more likely to report having AMD (specifically, they found an 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.
The researchers caution that this observational study cannot confirm the cause, but their findings align with evidence from elsewhere in the world.
Lead author of the study, Professor Paul Foster said: ‘Here we have identified yet another health risk posed by air pollution, strengthening the evidence that improving the air we breathe should be a key public health priority.
‘Our findings suggest that living in an area with polluted air, particularly fine particulate matter or combustion-related particles that come from road traffic, could contribute to eye disease.
Dr Sharon Chua, the paper’s first author, added: ‘Higher exposure to air pollution was also associated with structural features of AMD. This may indicate that higher levels of air pollution may cause the cells to be more vulnerable to adverse changes and increase the risk of AMD.’
Photo Credit – Pixabay