What Is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration (also known as Age-Related Macular Degeneration, AMD, or ARMD) is a condition in which the macula deteriorates over time. The macula is a pigmented area near the center of the retina which is responsible for our ability to discern fine detail, necessary for visual tasks like reading and recognizing faces. It is the most common cause of serious vision loss among Americans over 50 years old, affecting more older Americans than cataracts and glaucoma combined. The two types of AMD are dry (or atrophic) macular degeneration and wet (or neovascular) macular degeneration.
Dry Macular Degeneration
Dry macular degeneration is by far the more common of the two types of macular degeneration, affecting over 80% of people who have Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Vision deterioration from Dry AMD occurs more slowly than in the case of wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration and it can be difficult to detect in the early stages. This disease occurs when small yellow protein and cholesterol deposits called drusen accumulate on the retina beneath the macula. Typically no vision loss occurs until the middle and later stages of dry AMD, so it’s important to get regular eye exams to ensure that this condition is detected early on if it does occur.
Wet Macular Degeneration
Wet macular degeneration is a more advanced form of AMD. While accounting for under 20% of total cases of AMD, wet macular degeneration is responsible for over 90% of cases in which severe vision loss takes place. Wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration involves the growth of abnormal new blood vessels beneath the retina. These vessels often break and bleed, leaking fluid that causes damage to the macula and can cause extremely rapid loss of eyesight.
What Are The Causes Of Macular Degeneration?
The specific cause of macular degeneration is not known, but the disease tends to affect older people, with the vast majority of cases appearing in people over the age of 50. Lifestyle factors also apply – obesity and cardiovascular diseases may increase your risk, and smoking cigarettes has been shown to double the risk of macular degeneration. Race appears to be a factor as well, with most occurrences of AMD affecting people of Caucasian descent.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Macular Degeneration?
In the early stages of macular degeneration, it’s quite common to have no apparent symptoms. The disease first manifests itself as fuzzy or distorted vision, or a shadowy spot near the center of your field of vision. It’s important to get regular eye exams from a retinal specialist, as we may be able to identify drusen accumulation – an early indicator of dry macular degeneration – before any discernible effect on your vision has taken place.
How Is Macular Degeneration Diagnosed?
By conducting a retinal exam, we can detect macular degeneration by discovering the presence of drusen before you have begun to notice symptoms. This will be followed by a brief test using an Amsler grid – a straight-line graph that helps to detect blurriness or distortion in your vision.
What Are The Possible Treatments For Macular Degeneration?
Currently, there is no known cure for macular degeneration. There are also no pharmaceutical treatments for Dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration, although lifestyle changes may slow the progression to wet macular degeneration and severe vision loss. These can include quitting smoking, eating a healthier diet, getting more exercise, and carefully managing other medical conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure. Working with a specialist who is trained in low vision rehabilitation may help with adapting to the changes to your vision that take place over time.
For wet macular degeneration, there are some FDA-approved medications available to slow deterioration of vision. Lucentis is one drug that works by slowing the growth of abnormal blood vessels and impeding the fluid leakage that causes worsening vision. In some cases, a tiny telescopic device can be implanted to magnify improved images onto the retina.
Are There Preventative Steps Or Measures To Avoid Macular Degeneration?
Regular eye exams are essential for detecting macular degeneration early on in order to take steps to slow its progression and prevent long-term vision loss. Macular degeneration has been linked to diet and fitness, and you may be able to reduce your risk by eating healthy and getting regular exercise. Smoking cigarettes has also been shown to significantly increase your risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration; if you’re a smoker, look for resources to help you quit!
What Are The Risks If Macular Degeneration Is Left Untreated?
If AMD is left untreated to the point that it develops into wet macular degeneration, it can cause rapid loss of vision, severely impeding your ability to perform ordinary tasks like reading and driving. Profound vision loss can also lead to heightened depression and feelings of loneliness and isolation, as well as visual hallucinations.
Key Takeaways About Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is the most common cause of vision loss, affecting over 10 million Americans. While there is no known cure, regularly getting your eyes checked greatly improves your chances of detecting the disease early on. Living a healthy lifestyle – eating healthy, exercising, and not smoking cigarettes – can help with reducing your risk of developing macular degeneration as well as slowing its progression. If left untreated, dry macular degeneration can develop over time into wet macular degeneration, which can cause severe and permanent vision loss. If you begin to notice blurriness or shadows near the center of your field of vision, please schedule an appointment with one of our eye experts immediately.