A study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology has revealed that exposure to air pollution increases the risk of blindness in older adults. The study found that small increases in air pollution contribute to the occurrence of age-related muscular degeneration (AMD), a condition that causes irreversible blindness. The study, conducted in the U.K. with data of more than 115,000 participants, shows that tiny pollution particles increase the risk of AMD by 8%, while changes in large particle pollution increase the risk by 12%.

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“There is an enormously high flow of blood [to the retina] and we think that as a consequence of that the distribution of pollutants is greater to the eye than to other places,” said Paul Foster, professor at the University College London and a researcher behind the study. “Proportionately, air pollution is going to become a bigger risk factor as other risk factors are brought under control.”

Related: How clean is your indoor air?

Today, AMD is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in developed countries. The disease mainly affects people above the age of 50 but may also affect younger individuals. Over 200 million people around the world have been diagnosed with AMD. In the U.K. alone, about 5% of people over the age of 65 have AMD.

Although air pollution is not among the biggest risk factors for this condition, worsening air quality might make things worse in the future. Currently, the biggest risk factors include poor physical health, particularly smoking.

“It’s important to keep things in context — people shouldn’t be looking outside their door and thinking: ‘I can’t go out because it is polluted out there,’” Foster said. “The study gives people information that they can use to alter their lifestyle choices. For example, it may be another reason why we might consider going for an electric car, instead of buying a diesel.”

The researchers are planning to conduct another study that will determine the impact of indoor air pollution on eye health.

+ British Journal of Ophthalmology

Via The Guardian

Image via Cristi Goia