This winter, as you are in search of cold remedies, vitamins, heat packs, etc., you might stumble across eye vitamins in the pharmacy.

These hit the market in the early 2000s as a supplement to reduce the risk of progression of age-related macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration is an eye disease affecting the macula, a component of the retina that corresponds to central vision. Macular degeneration is divided into two categories, dry and wet.

Dry macular degeneration is usually the less severe of the two, and there has been no proven treatment for this type. In wet macular degeneration, the area under the retina becomes filled with fluid and-or blood, and vision loss is often more severe.

The severity of macular degeneration ranges from causing mild blurring of central vision to total loss of a large section of the center part of your vision.

The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) studied the effects of certain supplements on age-related macular degeneration and is the basis for the eye vitamins you are now seeing on pharmacy shelves.

The first study concluded in a formulation of 500 milligrams of vitamin C, 400 international units of vitamin E, 15 milligrams of beta-carotene, 80 milligrams of zinc, and two milligrams of copper.

The AREDS group then conducted a second study and changed the formulation slightly due to a concern of beta-carotene increasing the risk of lung cancer in smokers.

The AREDS II formulation was then released with the same amounts of vitamins C and E, a reduced level of 25 milligrams of zinc, no beta-carotene, and the addition of 10 milligrams lutein and 2 milligrams zeaxanthin.

Both the AREDS I and II formulations have shown to slightly reduce the risk of progression to an advanced form of macular degeneration in patients who already have macular degeneration of at least moderate severity.

Neither formulation was proven to have a significant effect in patients with very early and-or mild forms of the disease, nor was it shown to stop development of macular degeneration in those who did not have the disease.

Taking the eye vitamins cannot hurt you (although be sure to take AREDS II if you smoke), but have not been shown to be beneficial unless you already have the disease of a certain level.

Your eye care professional will look for this condition at your annual exam and advise you whether you should be taking these supplements.

Caroline Bundrick, O.D. is an optometrist practicing at Darling Eye Center, with offices in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island.