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Aspirin Linked to Blinding Eye Disease

Study Strengths and Limitations continued...

Indeed, when researchers looked just at people with the risk-conferring form of this gene, the association between macular degeneration and aspirin was even stronger. It was more than four times as high for regular vs. non-regular users, suggesting that there might be a biological basis for the association.

But other limitations make the findings less reliable. Researchers only asked about aspirin use once, for example, at the start of the study, so people who stopped taking aspirin might have been misclassified. And only half the people who started the study were followed for the full 15 years; so it's possible that people who were motivated to stick with the research may have been more concerned about their health and eyesight in general. It’s also possible that there were other differences between the groups that the study authors weren’t able to account for.

Advice for Aspirin Users

For all those reasons, many researchers and independent experts agree that no one should stop taking aspirin as directed by their doctor because of this study.

“Take your aspirin,” says Mark Fromer, MD, an ophthalmologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who was not involved in the research. 

The risk of getting macular degeneration after 15 years of regular aspirin use was still relatively slight. “Obviously, your general health comes first,” Fromer says.

What does make sense, he says, is to get regular eye exams.

“Anyone who is taking aspirin and is of the age where they could be at risk, they’re the people who want to have their retinas checked,” he says.

The study researchers agree that regular eye exams are important, particularly if a close relative also has macular degeneration (AMD).

“If patients have a strong family history of AMD or have late-stage AMD already affecting one eye, physicians could raise the awareness in patients and their families about the possibility of this possible adverse effect following long-term use of aspirin,” says researcher Jie Jin Wang, PhD, a senior research fellow in the Centre for Vision Research at the University of Sydney in Australia.

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