What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular Degeneration, also known as Age-related Macular Degeneration or AMD is the leading cause of blindness in Americans over the age of 50. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1.8 million people have AMD and another 7.3 million are at substantial risk for vision loss from AMD. It results from changes to the macula, which is part of the retina. The retina is the light sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye, and the macula is the portion of the retina that is responsible for clear, sharp vision, and is located at the center of the retina.
What symptoms are associated with AMD?
Symptoms of macular degeneration are subtle at first, but include:
- A gradual loss of ability to see objects clearly,
- Distorted vision,
- A gradual loss of color vision and
- Dark or empty areas appearing in the center of vision.
If you experience any of these, contact our office immediately for a comprehensive examination.
How is AMD diagnosed?
AMD is diagnosed by having a thorough eye examination which includes dilation and retinal photos. Retinal photos lead to earlier detection of AMD in the beginning stages resulting in improved recommendations to modify lifestyle and prevention of greater loss of vision. An OCT which images the internal retinal structure may also be used for diagnosis and monitoring for progression. Genetic testing may also be recommended, not necessarily for diagnosis, but to help determine your risk of progression and also to help determine the most appropriate supplement to take.
What types of AMD are there?
Macular degeneration is divided into two types: a “dry” or atrophic and a “wet” or exudative form. Most people with macular degeneration have the dry form. With the dry form, the macular tissue gradually thins and stops functioning properly. Although the dry form is less likely to lead to severe vision loss, it still has the potential to ‘burn out’ leading to vision loss that cannot be restored. There is no known cure for the dry form of macular degeneration, but improving nutrition through diet and/or nutritional supplements can slow the progression of the disease. Dietary changes favoring low-fat content and dark green leafy vegetables and dark red and blue berries can slow vision loss. On a yearly basis, about 10% of those who have the dry form of AMD will transition to the wet form of AMD.
Wet Macular degeneration is the less common form of the disease and occurs when fluid leaks from newly formed blood vessels under the macula. This leakage results in blurred central vision leading to more severe vision loss. This is the more advanced form of the disease.
Is wet macular degeneration treatable?
Fortunately there are treatments for wet macular degeneration. The wet form may respond to laser procedures, as well as certain medications that are injected into the eye, if diagnosed and treated early. These are not permanent cures, but help slow the rate of central vision loss.
In cases where vision is decreased or when treatment has not been successful, the vision that is lost to macular degeneration cannot be restored. However, there are specialized optical devices (called low vision devices), such as telescopic and microscopic lenses that can be prescribed to make the most out of remaining vision.
What are the risk factors for AMD?
Risk factors include age, light skin color (Caucasians), blue eyes, history of sunlight exposure, exposure to short wavelength blue light, smoking, diabetes, hypertension, and nutrition. Genetics also play a role in the development of AMD.
Can I prevent macular degeneration?
Although we have no control over certain risk factors such as age, race and genetics we certainly have control over other risk factors such as whether we choose to smoke or not, what foods we eat, whether we choose to take appropriate supplements, if we exercise and control our weight and monitor any diabetes or hypertension, if we wear proper sun protection when outdoors and if we protect our eyes against short wavelength blue light radiation (which has been shown to cause AMD) both indoors and outdoors. Our actions can make a difference resulting in a lower risk of getting macular degeneration.
Here are some things that you can do to lower your risk of getting macular degeneration, including:
- A healthy diet
- low in salt intake
- Eating plenty of green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, cabbage, kale, turnip greens, etc.,
- Brightly colored vegetables, such as beets, carrots, etc.
- Eating dark red and blue berries
- No smoking (smoking is the single biggest risk factor for macular degeneration)
- Wear proper sun protection (especially blue filtering lenses)
- Wear blue filtering lenses when using the computer, smart phone and tablet
- Take eye-friendly supplements containing lutein, zeaxanthin and/or mesozeaxanthin such as MacuHealth