Macular Degeneration - Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
Macular degeneration is a common eye disease that causes vision loss in older adults. It occurs when the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine details, begins to deteriorate. Macular degeneration can make it difficult to read, drive and perform other similar activities.
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration:
- Blurry vision
- Difficulty seeing fine details, such as reading fine print or having difficult driving
- Decreased central vision, which could include dark or blurry areas in the center of your vision
- Worse or unnatural color perception; though rare, sudden changes in color perception should raise a flag
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see an eye doctor right away. Early detection and treatment of macular degeneration can help slow the progression of the disease and preserve your vision.
Types of Macular Degeneration:
Dry macular degeneration– The most common type of macular degeneration, which affects about 80 percent of people with the condition. It occurs when the macula dries out and waste products, called drusen, build up under the retina. This type of macular degeneration usually progresses slowly and causes mild to moderate vision loss.
Wet macular degeneration– Less common, but almost always more severe, it occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow under the macula and leak fluid or blood. This can cause vision loss much more quickly than dry macular degeneration. When this happens, straight lines may begin to look wavy or you might develop blind spots.
Causes of Macular Degeneration:
The exact cause of macular degeneration is unknown; however, there are risk factors that can increase your chances of developing the disease. Keep in mind, some of these risk factors are things totally out of your control:
- Age– The older you get, the more likely you are to develop macular degeneration. According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, macular degeneration is most common in adults 60 years old and older.
- Family history– If you have a family member with macular degeneration, you may be at a higher risk for developing the disease.
- Race– White people are more likely to develop macular degeneration than people of color.
While the causes of macular degeneration are complex, several of the risk factors are under your control:
- Smoking– Cigarette smoking is the most significant risk factor for developing macular degeneration. In fact, smokers are four times more likely to develop the condition than nonsmokers.
- Diet– Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been linked with a reduced risk of macular degeneration.
- Exposure to sunlight– Excessive exposure to sunlight can damage the macula. Wearing sunglasses and a hat when you are outdoors can help protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.
Treatments for Macular Degeneration:
There is no cure for macular degeneration. However, there are treatments to help slow the progression of the disease and preserve your vision:
- Anti-angiogenesis drugs– These drugs are injected into the eye and work by preventing the growth of new blood vessels.
- Laser surgery– This type of surgery is used to seal leaks in abnormal blood vessels or destroy them altogether.
- Nutritional supplements– Taking specific nutritional supplements, such as vitamins C and E, zinc and copper, has been shown to help slow the progression of macular degeneration.
- Low-vision aids– In the event of vision loss due to macular degeneration, there are low-vision aids to help you make the most of your remaining vision. These include magnifiers, special glasses, talking books and more.
According to WebMD, there are also some experimental treatments currently being studied by researchers, including:
- Submacular surgery– This eliminates abnormal blood vessels or blood in the eye.
- Retinal translocation– A procedure to destroy abnormal blood vessels under the center of your macula, where a laser beam cannot safely be used by your doctor.
Macular Degeneration Outlook:
Although macular degeneration is characterized by progressive loss of vision, most individuals do not suffer total blindness as a result of this illness. Their overall vision may be poor, but they are still capable of performing many daily tasks. In most cases, you can still use your peripheral vision.
If you have been diagnosed with macular degeneration, it is important to follow your doctor’s treatment plan. Taking steps to protect your vision and monitoring your eye health can help you maintain your quality of life for years to come.