How to Manage Living with Macular Degeneration
As we age, our vision degrades, affecting our ability to read, drive, use a computer, watch television, and even make out faces. Symptoms of age-related vision degradation include the need for more light, difficulty reading or doing close-up work, problems with glare, changes in color perception, and reduced tear production.
Cataracts and glaucoma are common age-related eye disease, but macular degeneration is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over 60, affecting more than 10 million Americans, more than cataracts and glaucoma combined.
What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration, also called age-related macular degeneration or AMD, specifically refers to the deterioration of the retina, the nerve tissue that lines the back of the eye and detects light. Though common, macular degeneration almost never leads to total blindness.
There are two types of macular degeneration:
The wet form involves the growth of abnormal blood vessels from the choroid, the vascular layer between the retina and the white of the eye. These abnormal blood vessels leak into the retina, leading to distortion of vision, blind spots, and the loss of central vision; this can eventually lead to the formation of a scar, causing permanent loss of central vision.
Dry macular degeneration refers to the presence of drusen, small yellow deposits, in the macula – the small, oval-shaped area near the back of the retina that aids in clear, detailed vision. These deposits generally don’t hurt vision as long as they are small and few in number, but growth in the size and number can lead to dimmed or distorted vision. These changes are most noticeable during reading. In more advanced stages, the light detecting layer of the macula can thin, leading to atrophy, causing blind spots and even the loss of central vision.
The dry form of the disease is more common than the wet form, which only affects about 10 percent of macular degeneration sufferers; but the dry form can lead to the wet form, and sufferers of the wet form make up the majority of macular degeneration sufferers who experience severe vision loss.
How is Macular Degeneration Treated?
There is no cure for macular degeneration, but there are a number of treatments that can be used to offset AMD’s effects. Vitamins, laser treatments, vision aids, and medications can all be used to treat macular degeneration.
Research shows that for some patients with moderate to severe dry macular degeneration, vitamins A, C, beta-carotene, zinc, and copper can decrease vision loss. Lutein and zeaxanthin can improve the effectiveness of these vitamins and minerals in patients who do not already get the daily recommended amount from their diet.
High-energy laser lights can sometimes be used to eliminate abnormal blood vessels. Another type of laser treatment is photodynamic laser therapy. To conduct this procedure, a doctor first injects a medication into the patient’s bloodstream where it is absorbed into the abnormal blood vessels in the eyes. After absorption, the doctor activates the medication by shining a cold laser into the patient’s eyes, damaging and eliminating the abnormal vessels.
Patients can also use aids that utilize lenses or electronic means to produce larger images of objects. Of course, these aids don’t improve vision, but they can help patients see better with the vision they do have.
Anti-angiogenic drugs are injected directly into the eye to prevent the growth and leakage of the abnormal blood vessels that lead to the wet form of macular degeneration. Many patients regain vision following treatment, but the treatment may need to be repeated during follow up appointments.
How Can Living with Macular Degeneration be Made Easier?
In addition to the above treatments, patients can also take steps to make living with AMD easier. A healthy diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, in addition to the vitamins listed above, can delay the onset of macular degeneration and can help prevent further vision degradation, while high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol can worsen AMD. Doctors may recommend that they check their vision regularly using an Amsler grid to check for vision distortion.
The use of brighter lights around the home and magnifying tools when reading or doing other detailed work can help patients to continue the hobbies they love. Macular degeneration patients can be at higher risk for depression because of their vision loss. While feeling sad about vision loss is normal, if these feelings are prolonged or make you feel hopeless, talk to your doctor, who may refer you to someone who can help you transition and handle your vision loss. Talking to friends and family can help patients handle feelings of sadness, but is not a substitute for professional aid if a patient is feeling depressed.
What Should I Do to Start Handling My Macular Degeneration?
If you or someone you care about suffers from macular degeneration or any other eye disease, don’t wait to act. Doctors R.K. Ghosheh and Faris Ghosheh at Advanced Eye Medical are experienced ophthalmologists with a passion for helping patients manage their vision. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment and start getting a handle on your macular degeneration.