There are various types of macular degeneration. However, the most common form is associated with aging, this eye disease is also called age-related macular degeneration (ARMD).
The main symptom of Macular Degeneration is slowly losing vision in the central part of sight. This loss precludes the ability to do many everyday activities, including reading and driving. It also reduces your ability to see intricate details such as small prints and patterns.
The leading cause of vision loss in older Americans, 60 and older, is ARMD. There are two forms of this disease, wet macular degeneration and dry macular degeneration. Both forms affect the central portion of the retina, which is the light-sensitive section located in the back of the eye. This part of the eye processes images and is essentially responsible for sight. The dry form of ARMD is more common than the wet form. In fact, almost 90% of ARMD is the dry form.
The leading cause of losing vision in people over 60 years of age is macular degeneration. There are various risk factors, including smoking, obesity, and exposure to UV rays. Caucasians are at a significantly greater risk for contracting ARMD than African Americans. Additionally, macular degeneration affects women in greater numbers than men, and has a genetic component.
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While there is no cure for macular degeneration, treatments do exist that can delay the progression of the disease, preserve existing vision and sometimes even improve vision loss.
Currently, there are no approved treatments to prevent or cure dry AMD, although there is evidence that indicates that certain nutritional supplements, including omega 3 fatty acids, lutein and zeaxanthin, can prevent the progression of the disease to the more advanced wet form, which can cause more severe vision loss.
There are a couple of options for treating wet AMD to slow the progression of vision loss which include medicated injections and laser therapy. These therapies are designed to stop the development of new blood vessels, to destroy existing ones and to prevent leakage into the macula – the main dangers with wet AMD.
Unfortunately, while much research continues to be conducted, currently there is no treatment and no way to fully regain vision lost by AMD. Those who have suffered significant vision loss can benefit from the many low vision devices on the market which utilize your existing vision to assist in maintaining your independence. Such devices include standing and hand-held magnifiers and telescopes and other aides that can help to improve your vision.
If you have been diagnosed with AMD, regular vision tests are essential. Close monitoring and adherence to treatment can not only prevent further vision deterioration but can sometimes even improve vision.
Macular Degeneration can cause low vision and debilitating vision loss, even blindness if not diagnosed and treated in the early stages. Because the disease often has no obvious symptoms early on, it is critical to have regular comprehensive eye exams, particularly if you are at risk.
Symptoms of AMD
Macular degeneration is a disease in which the macula slowly breaks down, resulting in a gradual progressive vision loss, at least in its’ early stages. Frequently there are no symptoms and the disease is only diagnosed when a doctor detects signs such as a thinning macula or the presence of drusen in a comprehensive eye examination. Early vision loss can include blurry, cloudy or distorted central vision or dark spots in your central field of view. With advanced stages, vision loss can be severe and sudden with larger blind spots and total loss of central vision.
Risk Factors for Macular Degeneration
Age is the most prominent risk factor for AMD, as the disease is most common in individuals over the age of 60 (although it can happen in younger individuals as well). Other risk factors can increase your chances of developing the disease such as:
- Genetics and Family History: Research shows that there are actually almost 20 genes that have been linked to AMD, and they suspect that there are many more genetic factors to be discovered. Family history greatly increases your chances of developing AMD.
- Race: Caucasians are more likely to get AMD than Hispanics or African-Americans.
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking can double your likelihood of developing AMD.
- Lifestyle: Research shows that UV exposure, poor nutrition, high blood pressure, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle can also be contributing factors.
- Gender: Females have a higher incidence of AMD than males.
- Medications: Certain medications may increase the chances of developing AMD.
To reduce your risks of developing AMD it is recommended to make healthy choices such as:
- Regular eye exams; once a year especially if you are 50 or over.
- Stop smoking.
- Know your family history and inform your eye doctor.
- Proper nutrition and regular exercise: Research indicates that a healthy diet rich in “Eyefoods” with key nutrients for the eyes such as orange peppers, kale and spinach as well as regular exercise may reduce your risks or slow the progression of AMD.
- Maintain healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
- Dietary supplements: Studies by the National Eye Institute called AREDs and ARED2 indicated that a high dosage of supplements of zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E and lutein may slow the progression of advanced dry AMD (it is not recommended for those without AMD or early AMD). Speak to a doctor before taking these supplements because there may be associated risks involved.
- Wear 99% -100% UV-blocking sunglasses.
The first step to eye health is awareness. By knowing your risk, taking preventative measures and visiting your eye doctor on a regular basis, you can greatly reduce your chances of facing this debilitating disease.
There are two forms of macular degeneration, dry (non-neovascular) or wet (neovascular). The term neovascular refers to the growth of new blood vessels.
Dry AMD (non-neovascular)
Dry AMD is the most common form of the disease, making up about 85%-90% of all cases of AMD. It is characterized by blurred central vision or blind spots, as the macula begins to deteriorate. Dry AMD is an early stage of the disease and is less severe than the wet form,.
Dry AMD occurs when the aging tissues of the macula begin to thin out and break down. Tiny pieces of white or yellowish protein called drusen begin to appear, which are thought to be deposits from the macular tissue as it deteriorates. The appearance of these drusen are often what leads to a diagnosis of AMD during an eye exam.
With dry AMD vision loss happens gradually, however, the dry form can progress to wet AMD rapidly. There is currently no cure for dry AMD, however there is research that shows that some people can benefit from supplemental vitamin therapy including antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Wet AMD (neovascular)
Wet AMD is less common occurring in only about 10 percent of those with AMD. AMD is classified as Wet AMD when abnormal blood vessels begin to grow under the retina and leak fluid and blood into the macula, resulting in blind spots and a loss of central vision. Wet AMD can cause more damage to vision and permanent scarring if not treated quickly, so any sudden blur in vision should be assessed immediately, especially if one is aware that they have AMD. Usually vision loss happens faster and is more noticeable than in dry AMD so the quicker it is treated, the more vision you can preserve.