What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration, often referred to as Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), is one of the leading causes of blindness and vision impairment in people over 50 years of age. This debilitating eye condition has even been known to affect vision in patients as young as their 40s, and often starts with symptoms like mild blurriness or distortion, and gets progressively worse over time. The macula is a small spot close to the center of the retina that allows you to clearly see textures, colors, and fine details. Macular degeneration is characterized by the gradual breaking down of the eye’s macula.
At Riverside EyeCare, our board-certified ophthalmologists offer many effective treatment options to slow the progression of macular degeneration. It is very important to identify this condition in its earliest stages in order to prevent serious vision damage from occurring. Routine eye exams and certain preventative measures may also minimize the health risks associated with macular degeneration, helping you preserve your vision for the future.
Causes of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Research shows that the causes of macular degeneration are complex, but that both genetics and the person’s environment play a role. While the exact cause of age-related macular degeneration remains unknown, there are some commonalities among men and women who develop the disease.
Men and women over the age of 55 are more likely to develop AMD. In addition to the natural aging process, risk factors for the development of macular degeneration may include:
- Sun and UV ray exposure
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Those who have a family history of macular degeneration are considered at a higher risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, as well. In addition, cases of AMD are more prevalent among Caucasian men and women compared to African-Americans, Hispanics, or Latinos.
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
The symptoms of macular degeneration can start very simply, and therefore may be difficult for you to even realize they are happening. This makes it vital to have regular eye exams performed by a qualified eye doctor at the first hint of the slightest vision irregularity.
Common symptoms of macular degeneration include:
- Blurry vision
- Blind spots in the center of your vision
- Loss of visual acuity
- Trouble seeing dark or light colors
Additionally, some individuals suffering from macular degeneration may notice objects and lines that are straight taking on a curved or bent appearance. They may also become aware that the size or color of an object can vary depending upon which eye is being used to view the object.
Stages of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration can be broken down into three main stages, as described below:
- Early AMD: Many people do not notice the initial symptoms of AMD or consider them significant. Vision loss during early-stage AMD is rare, making routine eye exams particularly valuable. Patients who are considered at a higher risk for developing the disease should be especially vigilant. When a patient is diagnosed with early-stage AMD, the eye doctor can detect a medium-sized yellow deposit beneath the retina, known as drusen.
- Intermediate AMD: Even at the intermediate stage, some patients with AMD may have no noticeable symptoms. However, the size of the drusen will likely have increased by this stage and may be accompanied by pigment changes to the retina.
- Late AMD: Late-stage AMD is characterized by significant, noticeable vision loss in one or both eyes. This stage can be avoided or delayed by prompt diagnosis and treatment when the disease first begins to develop.
Types of Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration typically develops into one of two types: dry (non-neovascular) or wet (neovascular) macular degeneration:
Dry Macular Degeneration
Dry macular degeneration is the most common type, and unfortunately, there are currently no effective surgical treatment options available. The dry form, however, typically progresses very slowly, and vitamin therapy and vision aids may be able to reduce some of the symptoms. Antioxidants, beta-carotene, and other vitamins and minerals may also be useful in the prevention of dry macular degeneration. We recommend taking care to protect your eyes when you are out in the sun, especially if you are at high risk for macular degeneration. Routine eye exams are particularly important for the detection, monitoring, and treatment of this form of macular degeneration.
Wet Macular Degeneration
Although less common, wet macular degeneration progresses much faster than the dry form, and often causes extreme vision impairment early in its development. Consequently, patients typically notice these changes in vision and are more likely to seek out the assistance of an eye doctor. When wet macular degeneration develops, blood vessels form abnormally between the layers of the retina and begin to leak blood or fluid, ultimately leading to scarring and permanent tissue damage. The major signs of wet macular degeneration includes loss of central vision and a reduction in the ability to see fine detail. When wet macular degeneration develops in one eye, the risk of the condition developing in the other eye is significantly increased. If the condition is detected in its earliest stages, treatments are available that can slow the progression of vision loss or even improve the vision.
If you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of these conditions, you should immediately seek the advice of an experienced eye doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Wet Macular Degeneration Treatment
When patients are diagnosed with wet macular degeneration, our ophthalmologists often treat the condition with a series of intravitreal injections, which have been proven to stop bleeding and prevent further retinal damage for many individuals. There are several types of intravitreal injections available, including Avastin®, Lucentis®, and Eylea®. Dr. Sumsion will choose the medication that can best suit your individual needs after a complete diagnosis of your condition.
To determine which wet macular degeneration treatment is best for your needs, your ophthlmologist will conduct a thorough eye exam, carefully review your medical history, discuss your expectations, and help you make a well-informed decision about your eye health.
Macular Degeneration Prevention and Detection
A healthy diet is considered one of the best methods for risk reduction and prevention of macular degeneration. A diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants consisting of foods such as leafy green vegetables, carrots, melons, citrus, and fish can be highly beneficial. Vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin A, C, E, lutein, zeaxanthin, folic acid, and beta-carotene with zinc have been shown to slow the development of macular degeneration. Reducing levels of harmful UV exposure with protective eyewear, refraining from smoking, and exercising regularly can also help you maintain good eye health.
Additionally, routine eye exams give your eye doctor the opportunity to detect macular degeneration in its earliest stages and may help improve your chances of preserving your eyesight. The Amsler Grid, a common test utilized to monitor changes in the eye, is easy to administer, and can lead to a prompt diagnosis (and subsequent treatment) as soon as macular degeneration begins to develop.
For more information on dry or wet macular degeneration, or if you would like to schedule an appointment with one of our ophthalmologists to evaluate the health of your macula, please contact Riverside EyeCare Professionals today. Together, we can help preserve your eye and vision health long-term.