Objective: To examine the association of sunlight exposure and indicators of sun sensitivity with the 10-year incidence of age-related maculopathy (ARM).
Design: Population-based cohort study.
Participants: We included persons aged 43 to 86 years at the baseline examination from 1988 to 1990, living in Beaver Dam, Wis, of whom 3684 persons underwent 5-year follow-up and 2764 underwent 10-year follow-up.
Methods: Data on sun exposure and indicators of sun sensitivity were obtained from a standardized questionnaire administered at baseline and/or follow-up. We determined ARM status by grading stereoscopic color fundus photographs using the Wisconsin Age-Related Maculopathy Grading System.
Main outcome measures: Incidence and progression of ARM.
Results: While controlling for age and sex, we found that participants exposed to the summer sun for more than 5 hours a day during their teens, in their 30s, and at the baseline examination were at a higher risk of developing increased retinal pigment (risk ratio [RR], 2.99; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.18-7.60; P =.02) and early ARM (RR, 2.20; 95% CI, 1.02-4.73; P =.04) [corrected] by 10 years than those exposed less than 2 hours per day during the same periods. In participants reporting the highest summer sun exposure levels in their teens and 30s, the use of hats and sunglasses at least half the time during the same periods was associated with a decreased risk of developing soft indistinct drusen (RR, 0.55; 95% CI, 0.33-0.90; P =.02) and retinal pigment epithelial depigmentation (RR, 0.51; 95% CI, 0.29-0.91; P =.02). Participants who experienced more than 10 severe sunburns during their youth were more likely than those who experienced 1 or no burn to develop drusen with a 250-microm diameter or larger (RR, 2.52; 95% CI, 1.29-4.94 [corrected] P =.01) by the 10-year examination. No relationships were found between UV-B exposure, winter leisure time spent outdoors, skin sun sensitivity, or number of bad sunburns experienced by the time of the baseline examination and the 10-year incidence and progression of ARM or its associated lesions.
Conclusions: Few significant relationships between environmental exposure to light and the 10-year incidence and progression of ARM were found in the Beaver Dam Eye Study. Consistent with results from the baseline and 5-year follow-up examinations, significant associations were found between extended exposure to the summer sun and the 10-year incidence of early ARM and increased retinal pigment. A protective effect of hat and sunglasses use by participants while in their teens and 30s against the 10-year incidence of soft indistinct drusen and retinal pigment epithelial depigmentation was also found, but only in those who reported the highest amount of sun exposure during the same periods.