Macular Degeneration May Affect Younger Age Group

Early macular degeneration found in patients younger than 50

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Macular degeneration is a common cause of visual impairment and blindness in the elderly. But recent research suggests this disorder can also be found in much younger people.

Macular degeneration is an eye disease that causes blurring in the middle of the field of sight and can progress to blindness. The disease has several stages that range from early to advanced. It cannot be reversed, but some treatments are available.

In a recent study, researchers looked at how early the signs of MD can be found.

They found that early stages of MD can appear in people younger than 44. No late-stage MD was found in the group of people younger than 44. The number of people with advanced MD increased with age.

"Have regular eye exams with an ophthalmologist."

The research was led by Christina A. Korb, MD, and Ulrike B. Kottler, MD, from the Department of Ophthalmology at the University Medical Center at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz in Germany.

Eye exams were conducted on 4,340 people aged 35 to 74 who participated in the Gutenberg Health Study in Germany. Roughly equal numbers of men and women took part in the study.

During the eye exam, the study authors looked for signs of macular degeneration and took photographs of the area of the eye where MD first occurs. Eye experts examined the images to assign a stage (early or late) for any MD present.

To study the association of MD with age, the research team classified the participants into four age groups: 35 to 44, 45 to 54, 55 to 64 and 65 to 74.

The earliest stages of MD were found in nearly 4 percent of people in the group of 35- to 44-year-olds. No late-stage MD was found in this group.

About 12 percent of all the people in the study were in the early stages of macular degeneration.

MD increased with the age of the participants. Late-stage MD was found in 0.2 percent, or 2 out of 1,000 people, in the study.

In the oldest group of participants, MD was found in 0.7 percent, or 7 out of 1,000 people.

MD prevalence was not different between men and women, and eye color had no effect on the finding of MD.

The authors noted that the participants in this study were mostly Caucasians of European heritage. They said additional studies are needed to see if these results apply to other populations.

Another limitation the authors noted was that systems used to classify MD may vary between studies, making comparisons with different MD studies difficult.

“Our research shows that age-related macular degeneration can already occur much earlier than previously thought," Dr. Korb said in a press release. "This means there may also be possible consequences with regard to the screening examinations for these diseases."

The research study was published in the February issue of Graefe's Archive for Clinical Experimental Ophthalmology.

Co-author Philipp S. Wild, MD, Msc, reported receiving funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Review Date: 
July 25, 2014
Last Updated:
July 28, 2014