Imagine losing the ability to thread a needle, read small print, and even to read street signs. For many older Americans, this is a normal part of the aging process. Age related macular degeneration can change the way you see things every day.
Here’s what you need to know about macular degeneration and how you can help prevent it.
What is Macular Degeneration?
Age related macular degeneration is a deterioration or breakdown of the eye’s macula. The macula is a small area in the retina—the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye. The macula is the part of the retina that is responsible for your central vision, allowing you to see fine details clearly.
Many older people develop macular degeneration as part of the body’s natural aging process. The two types of age related macular degeneration are: dry macular degeneration and wet macular degeneration.
Dry macular degeneration—accounts for about 90% of cases. The tissue of the retina shrinks and pigments accumulate inside of it. Dry macular degeneration can progress to the wet form.
Wet macular degeneration—new blood vessels grow around and behind the macula. There’s sometimes bleeding in or behind the macula. Material seeps into the retina and settles in the macula. This is called an exudate. Eventually the exudate disappears, but a scar takes its place. All people who have wet macular degeneration had dry degeneration first.
Macular Degeneration Symptoms & Causes
Causes of macular degeneration include the formation of deposits called drusen under the retina, and in some cases, the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina. With or without treatment, macular degeneration alone almost never causes total blindness. People with more advanced cases of macular degeneration continue to have useful vision using their side, or peripheral vision. In many cases, the impact macular degeneration has on your vision can be minimal.
There are some known risk factors for macular degeneration. Smoking may increase your chances of developing the condition and seems to speed up the progress. High cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, obesity, and a diet lacking in dark green leafy vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids may also be associated with age related macular degeneration. Women seem to be at a higher risk than men.
Both types of macular degeneration are completely painless. In dry macular degeneration, the centre of the field of vision in an eye slowly blurs and grows dim. You can still see colours, but the details aren’t clear. This tends to happen over a period of years. Often, people don’t notice the early stages, especially if their other eye is working fine. Unfortunately, macular degeneration rarely affects just one eye. It may take some time, but the other eye may eventually start to develop the same problems.
The vision loss in wet macular degeneration is much more rapid. While the central part of the filed of vision fades and blurs, it usually vanishes completely, leaving a large blind spot. An early sign of wet macular degeneration is when you notice that lines in the center of the filed of view become wavy. This is due to new blood vessels leaking fluid under the macula, which lifts it from its bed and deforms the shape. Wet macular degeneration symptoms usually occur in one eye at a time.
Treatment and Prevention
While there’s little that can be done for dry macular degeneration, the disease progresses very slowly, and will probably never completely black out the central vision. Many people with this condition live full lives without serious disability.
Some studies have suggested a link between poor nutrition and faster degeneration of the macula. According to this evidence, fruit and dark green vegetables like spinach can slow the disease and contribute to better outcomes. For some people, a doctor will recommend a daily supplement that contains zinc, copper, vitamin E, vitamin D, and beta-carotene or vitamin A.
There is no cure for wet macular degeneration, but treatment may help slow it down. Laser surgery destroys tiny, newly grown blood vessels that may be bleeding into the macula. Photodynamic therapy may also be used. This involves injecting a medication called verteporfin into a vein. Then, a light is used to activate the medication to close, abnormal blood vessels. Medications injected into the eye, such as aflibercept, ranibizumab, or pegaptanib, may be used to slow down the growth of blood vessels. Daily supplements may also be recommended.
To help reduce your chances of getting macular degeneration:
- Don’t smoke
- Eat a healthy diet rich in leafy greens
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Wear sunglasses with UV protection during the day
An ophthalmologist or eye specialist will likely treat you based on your description of macular degeneration symptoms of whiteout, blackout, or blurring of the center of vision, but an eye exam is needed to confirm the diagnosis. If you would like to book an eye exam to test for macular degeneration, then contact the team at Advanced Eye Medical today.