Macular degeneration is one of several eye disorders that is particularly common among adults over the age of 50 and is one of the leading causes of vision loss in the world. It is often known as age-related macular degeneration or AMD for short. While it doesn’t cause total blindness, it can affect your vision enough to make many days to day activities more difficult than before. Here’s what you need to know about this progressive condition, and what can be done to help preserve your vision.
Macular Degeneration: An Overview
Macular degeneration occurs when the cells of the part of the eye known as the macula start to deteriorate. This most often happens with advancing age, but there are some circumstances in which this deterioration happens much faster, meaning that someone who is younger could potentially be affected by the condition.
The macula plays an important role in our vision. A small patch of cells near the center of the retina, they are responsible for our central vision, color vision, and the sharpness with which we can see. This means that if these cells start to deteriorate, so too can these elements of our vision. There are two different types of AMD, known as ‘wet’ and ‘dry’. Dry AMD is the most common and occurs when the cells that form the macula get thinner and tiny clumps of protein to grow, compromising our vision. Wet AMD is less common but more serious. It occurs when new, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina and may leak blood or other fluids, causing scarring of the macula.
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
The speed with which your symptoms develop will depend on the type of AMD you have. Dry AMD develops slowly, whereas people with wet AMD can lose their sight fairly quickly. Symptoms of AMD include:
Sensitivity to light
Difficulty seeing in low light
Straight lines may appear wavy/distorted
Losing your place easily when reading
Focusing while driving becomes an effort
Colors appear muted
It becomes difficult to recognize faces
Causes of Macular Degeneration
It’s not known precisely why some people develop macular degeneration and some don’t, although there is a range of factors that could make someone more likely to suffer from it and develop it at a younger age. These include the following:
Family History. Having a family member with macular degeneration increases your risk of developing AMD.
Gender. Women are more likely to develop AMD than men.
Smoking. Smoking increases the risk of many different health and eye conditions, including macular degeneration. Much of this is attributed to the fact that smoking restricts the amount of oxygen in the blood, making it more difficult for cells to be healthy.
Not protecting your eyes from UV damage. The sun’s rays are just as harmful to our eyes as for our skin, and not wearing adequate protection could lead to overexposure, which in turn has been linked to the development of AMD.
High blood pressure. Also known as hypertension, this condition also restricts the flow of oxygenated blood around the body, putting patients at greater risk of developing macular degeneration.
Being overweight. Unsurprisingly, obesity is a leading cause of many health problems and is believed to be a contributor to several eye diseases, including AMD.
Can Vision Loss Due to Macular Degeneration Be Restored?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is no. Any vision that is lost as a result of suffering from macular degeneration cannot be restored. There is also no current treatment for dry AMD, and instead, patients have to learn to live with the condition, which won’t cause them to become completely blind, but that will mean they may need to use visual aids so that they can manage day-to-day. Often known as ‘low vision’ aids, they include tools like magnifying lenses and brighter lightbulbs. Positive lifestyle changes can also have a great effect on dry AMD, slowing down the condition. This includes steps such as a healthy diet that is filled with vitamins and minerals that are good for eye health, taking dietary supplements specific for macular health, quitting smoking, and doing more exercise.
If you are diagnosed with wet AMD, you will almost certainly need immediate medical treatment to preserve whatever vision you have remaining. The most common treatments for wet AMD include:
Anti-VEGF injections. Administered directly into the eyes, these stop vision from getting worse in around 9 out of 10 patients, and even improves vision in about a third of them.
Photodynamic therapy. Also known as PDT, this is where a light is shined into the back of the eyes to destroy abnormal blood vessels. PDT may also be carried out alongside Anti-VEGF injections.
If you would like to find out more about macular degeneration and what you can do to protect your eyes, don’t hesitate to contact our team at Clarke EyeCare Center in Wichita Falls, TX to schedule an appointment.