Top 9 Macular Degeneration Risk Factors

Macular degeneration, often called AMD or ARMD (age-related macular degeneration), is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in Americans aged 65 and older. AMD occurs with the degeneration of the macula, a part of the retina. It is possible to have none of the risk factors listed here and still develop macular degeneration. However, the more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop the disease. If you think you may be at risk, ask your eye doctor about ways to reduce your chances.


close-up of cigarette in hand

One must take note that out of all the risk factors for developing macular degeneration, smoking is the only one that is avoidable. A British study published in the Journal of British Ophthalmology concluded that smoking doubles your risk of developing macular degeneration. A review of 17 other studies suggested that there is enough scientific evidence to conclude that smoking may actually cause age-related macular degeneration.


Age is the largest risk factor for macular degeneration. Twenty-five percent of the population between the ages of 65 and 74 have macular degeneration. Over age 75, 33 percent have the disease.

Family History

Macular degeneration appears to be hereditary in some familes but not in others. Having certain genes passed down from relatives can make you more susceptible to the disease. Having a family history of age-related macular degeneration also has been shown to increase your risk by 50 percent. However, some families seem to inherit the gene and some do not. If you have family members with macular degeneration, you should pay particular attention to other risk factors.

High Blood Pressure

Having hypertension increases the likelihood of developing macular degeneration. The eye is a highly vascular organ with a rich supply of blood vessels. As a result, changes in blood pressure affect the eye. Having hypertension, as well as other cardiovascular diseases, increases the likelihood of developing macular degeneration.


Being overweight not only increases your risk of developing macular degeneration, it also increases your risk of developing more severe forms, such as geographic and neovascular macular degeneration. Studies show that people with a diet high in fats found in snack foods such as potato chips, french fires, cakes, and cookies are twice as likely to develop wet-macular degeneration.

Low Levels of Nutrients

Antioxidants may protect your cells from oxidative damage, which may partially be responsible for the effects of aging and macular degeneration. Patients with low levels of minerals, such as zinc, and of antioxidant vitamins, such as A, C and E, have a higher risk of vision loss related to macular degeneration.

Female Gender

Women tend to be at slighty higher risk of developing macular degeneration. There seems to be a link between the onset of menopause and macular degeneration. Women who have early onset menopause also develop macular degeneration sooner. In fact, there are current studies investigating the role of estrogen in macular degeneration treatment. Also, because women tend to live longer, they carry a higher risk of developing severe vision loss if they have the disease.

Caucasian Race

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in aging caucasian Americans. The disease is relatively rare in other races. Although we still do not know exactly what causes the disease, the amount of pigment present in tissue plays a role. Patients with light eye color also appear to be at greater risk than those with darker eyes.

Sun Exposure

woman lying in the grass sunbathing
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Spending too much time in the sun without ultraviolet protective sunglasses appears to speed the development of macular degeneration. Researchers have discovered that people with histories of prolonged, unprotected exposure to light had more cases of severe macular degeneration than those without such exposure.