Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of visual impairment in the United States. Several factors can contribute to its development, and researchers are looking into the role inflammation and autoimmune disorders may play in its development.

AMD is the most common cause of visual impairment in people older than 60. The condition causes central blindness that can worsen over time. Doctors often break it down into three phases: early, intermediate, and late.

Though several factors likely contribute to its development and progression, one area of interest for researchers is the role of inflammation and autoimmune disorders in AMD development and progression.

This article explores current research findings about the role of inflammation and AMD, other risk factors, prevention tips, and when to contact a doctor.

Researchers have examined the effect of inflammation and autoimmune disorders and their relationship to AMD’s development and progression.

In a 2020 research review, experts examined the role of inflammation in AMD. In particular, they reviewed the role of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines and leukocytes, such as T and B lymphocytes.

These white blood cells help turn the immune system’s inflammatory response on and off through cytokine expression. When the balance between the different cytokines becomes unbalanced, AMD may develop.

In other words, the researchers found evidence that suggested inflammation plays a role in AMD’s development. They also noted other factors that play a role in its development.

A review from 2018 also explored the role of inflammation and AMD. The researchers noted that though the immune system plays an important role in maintaining cellular health and processes in the body, it can have a destructive effect when it becomes unregulated or overactive. In addition to other factors, inflammation may contribute to AMD’s development.

One 2020 study looked more specifically at the role of interleukin 4 (IL-4). IL-4 is a cytokine that helps regulate the immune system. The researchers found that when damage occurs to the retina, IL-4 plays a role in regulating bone marrow cell production to repair damage to the blood vessels.

They suggested that therapies targeting IL-4 may help with treating AMD.

A 2022 review explored the role of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) in regulating inflammation in AMD. The review noted that these fatty acids play an important role in eye health.

More specifically, they noted that omega-3 LCPUFA may decrease the risk of developing AMD, while omega-6 LCPUFA may increase someone’s risk. Understanding the role of LCPUFA in AMD may help lead to better medical interventions and therapies.

Autoimmune disorders may also play a role in AMD’s development.

In a study from 2021, researchers found a connection between lupus and AMD. In their study, researchers noted that immune system agents known as the NLRC4 and NLRP3 inflammasomes contribute to harmful inflammation in lupus and AMD.

In lupus, these inflammasomes help drive the immune system’s overactivation, which can lead to symptoms such as skin rash and joint pain. In AMD, they may contribute to eye inflammation, which might destroy light-sensing cells in the retinas.

The findings of this study suggested therapies that block the signals from both these inflammasomes may provide an effective treatment strategy for both conditions.

Advanced age is a primary factor that can increase the likelihood of AMD. People older than 55 may be more likely to develop AMD than younger adults.

Other factors that may increase the likelihood of AMD can include:

  • family history
  • smoking
  • race: White people may have a higher chance of developing AMD.

AMD may not cause noticeable symptoms at first. An eye doctor can help identify signs of AMD through a comprehensive dilated eye exam.

People can help reduce their risk of developing AMD through certain lifestyle changes. These can include:

  • quitting or never starting smoking
  • eating a diet that emphasizes green leafy vegetables, brightly-colored fruits and vegetables, and fatty fish
  • exercising regularly
  • treating and managing other health conditions, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels

It is a good idea for a person to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam to check for early changes that may show a treatable eye disorder. The National Eye Institute recommends that certain people get an exam every 1–2 years, including:

  • Black people ages 40 or older
  • people with a family history of glaucoma
  • individuals ages 60 or older

People living with diabetes or high blood pressure may wish to consider getting an eye exam once a year and following the recommendations from a doctor.

Contacting a doctor about changes someone may notice in their vision is important. Changes could indicate AMD or another underlying eye disease.

Before starting any treatments or supplements, experts advise discussing plans with a doctor. Certain supplements used to treat AMD, such as AREDS 2, can interact with medications and may not be effective at treating early stages of AMD.

Inflammation and immune dysfunction can play a role in the progression of AMD. Research has shown a connection between processes involved in inflammation and autoimmune disorders and the development of AMD. It suggests that newer therapies targeting inflammation may help.

A person can reduce their risk of developing AMD. Some examples of lifestyle changes they can make may include quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet. It is also important for them to contact an eye doctor for regular examinations as they age or if they experience vision loss.