Study Shows How Stress Affects Macular Degeneration

Study Shows How Stress Affects Macular Degeneration

Stress is one of the top major causes of illness in America, yet it goes unnoticed by many people. Avoiding high pressure situations and held in feelings could manifest into stress-related symptoms putting your health at risk on many levels, including your sight.

A new study shows how stress may affect your vision, citing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) as one of the possible results. It may be a good idea to take a step back to assess whether you are harboring built up stress so you can reduce the potential for vision loss and other health challenges.

Stress Snapshot

According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America™ survey,

“The percentage of Americans who reported experiencing at least one symptom of stress [] rose from 71 percent in August 2016 to 80 percent in January 2017. This includes physical and emotional symptoms such as headache (34 percent), feeling overwhelmed (33 percent), feeling nervous or anxious (33 percent), or feeling depressed or sad (32 percent).”

Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice comments,

“We know that chronic stress can take a toll on a person’s health. It can make existing health problems worse, and even cause disease, either because of changes in the body or bad habits people develop to cope with stress. The bottom line is that stress can lead to real physical and emotional health consequences,”

The Stress Scale

The determination of how stress affects the body has been developed into a rating test called the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). Science Daily reports that a PSS, “can predict objective biological markers of stress, as well as the risk of stress-related diseases.” This includes predictive general markers of inflammation, including C-reactive proteins.

A study published in Optometry and Vision Science (3/17), the official journal of the American Academy of Optometry, found that by using the PSS it showed the potential to track how stress affects the impact and progression of AMD. In addition to everyday stress, the high strain affiliated with AMD could be advancing the possible development or rapid continuation of this disease.

However, although more testing is recommended, there is the belief that if you can target and reduce your stress levels preventing or simply managing AMD may be possible.

Reduce Stress, Reduce Inflammation

Most disease includes or is caused by inflammation and stress is a huge proponent of such. Being able to predict where inflammation is, how long it has been there, and to what severity it presents has alerted researchers to various ways they may be able to approach AMD treatment.

According to Bradley E. Dougherty, OD, Ph.D., of the Ohio State University College of Optometry, a lead researcher in the aforementioned Optometry and Vision Science study titled, ‘Measurement of Perceived Stress in Age-Related Macular Degeneration’,

“Because AMD is an inflammatory disease, we are studying the link between inflammation, stress, and AMD treatment outcomes,…In the end, we hope to better understand how general well-being influences disease outcomes.”

Stress can affect wet or dry AMD however those with wet AMD may be at higher risk. The Havener Eye Institute Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Science where Dr. Dougherty and his colleagues practice, describes these two levels of macular degeneration,

“AMD is characterized by degenerative damage to the light-sensitive tissue on the inside back of the eye responsible for central vision (macula). In dry AMD, vision loss is caused by a breakdown or thinning of cells in the macula. Wet AMD is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels which leak and cause swelling in the macula. The treatment for wet AMD is an ocular injection of a substance that prevents new blood vessel growth.”

Because wet AMD is more susceptible to stress related inflammation causing blood vessel leakage, those afflicted with this should take more caution in recognizing and reducing stress.

Dr. Dougherty’s co-researchers include: Dr. Frederick Davidorf (Ophthalmology), Dr. Karla Zadnick (Optometry), and Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser (Psychiatry and Psychology). This is a talented and dedicated team now using and recommending the Perceived Stress Scale as the best way to determine stress levels of AMD patients.

With AMD being yet another ailment in the crosshairs of stress, learning how to spot and clear stress triggers could be essential to the future of your healthy sight.

Triggers and Fixes

Stress can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes often making it difficult to see (literally). It isn’t until symptoms from stress arise that many are taken by surprise, spending time and money to play catch-up when prevention could have been applied by locating stress triggers and using ways to lessen the effects.

PsychCentral reports that Dougherty and his team commented that,

“AMD patients with vision loss experience high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Less is known about the relationship between the stress that AMD patients experience and the severity of their disease — for example, whether stress can cause AMD to worsen or not.”

An outside eye may be needed to first recognize changes you may be experiencing without even realizing it. Therefore, find someone that knows you well and sees you often but isn’t as close as an intimate partner. Ask them if they have seen a change in you over time and if they can name specifics.

In addition to an outside eye, it is also important to look in the mirror. Look at your physical shape as stress can manifest into an unhealthy body and mind. Then look into your mind and think of your reaction to your outside world regarding your job, relationships, community, etc.

These are some common stress triggers:

  • Overwhelming responsibilities
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Physical pain
  • Unhealthy relationship
  • Financial hardship

Being able to recognize your stress triggers is the first step. If you cannot do it with another person’s support and your own introspection then speaking to a professional may help. Once this is achieved you can begin working on stress repair which, according to Dr. Dougherty,

“stress-reduction approaches — for example, “mindfulness” interventions — have led to improved outcomes in patients with various health conditions.”

Some stress fixers include:

  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Laughing
  • Meditation
  • Career change
  • Keeping a journal
  • Plant-based menu choices
  • Creativity: Painting, cooking, singing, dancing, etc

Find out your stress levels for another natural way to reduce symptoms and advancement of AMD as well as many other affiliated potential health challenges.