Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration

This is a disease that affects the small area within the retina at the back of your eye called the Macula. This allows you to be able to see fine details clearly and be able to read and even drive. When the macula isn’t properly working, your center vision can be quite blurry and have areas that are distorted or dark. Macular degeneration can affect the ability to see far or near, and can even make certain activities hard or impossible.

This is also the most common cause of vision loss in those who are 50 or older.

Even though macular degeneration will reduce the vision within the center of the eye, it will not normally affect your peripheral vision. You may see the outline of the clock, but from the corner of your eye you can see what time it is. This doesn’t cause total blindness and in more advanced cases, it can cause some to have okay vision and are able to care for themselves while other occasions may not affect vision at all. Although, vision loss can be more severe and rapid.

The causes of macular degeneration

Most elderly will develop macular degeneration as part of the natural aging process. There are various types of macular issues but the most is age related macular degeneration or AMD.

Our bodies are constantly reacting with the oxygen in our environment. Over time our bodies will produce molecules called free radicals as a result of this. These will affect our cells and sometimes damage them which is known as oxidative stress and it is believed to play a huge part in how AMD actually develops. Most people have genetic changes that will make them more prone to this damage.

The risk factors are:

  • Having a family history of AMD
  • Being older than 50
  • Smoking
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels

Most people who have AMD will have deposits under their retina that is called drusen. This doesn’t cause vision loss on its own, but they do grow in size and number and there is a risk of developing advanced AMD.

The two most common types are Wet AMD and Dry AMD.

Wet Macular Degeneration

10% of those who have AMD will have wet AMD. Most of these will have major vision loss and it is caused when abnormal blood vessels underneath the retina leak fluid or blood, and then blur their center vision. The vision loss can be severe and rapid.

Dry Macular Degeneration

90% of those who have AMD will have Dry AMD. This is caused by damage and results in thinning the macular tissue. Vision loss is gradual and most will have issue adjusting to the changes in light.

Symptoms of Macular Degeneration

This can cause various symptoms in various people. Some may hardly notice AMD while others only lose vision in one eye while the other continues well for years to come. When both eyes are affected, you will notice the vision loss quickly.

Normally you will notice it when you find:

  • A dark or empty area appears in your center vision
  • Words on a page seem blurred
  • Straight lines look distorted

How to diagnose macular degeneration

Many do not realize that they have macular issues until the blurred vision becomes obvious. Your eye doctor will be able to detect early stages of AMD during an eye exam.

This includes:

  • An exam of the macula with special lenses
  • A simple vision test where you look at a chart
  • Having special pictures taken of your eye with OCT and Fluorescein angiography. This uses photos and fluorescein dye to show any abnormal blood vessels that are under your retina. OCT
  • Scanning is an exact tool that shows abnormal blood vessels by creating a picture of your macula.

Treatment for macular degeneration

Nutritional Supplements

Zinc and antioxidant vitamins may help to reduce the impact of AMD in some. A large study found that those who were at risk for AMD lowered their risks by 25% when treated with a large combination of:

  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Beta carotene

Another study showed that taking folic acid, vitamin b6 and vitamin b12 in women works while the benefits of fish oil are still ongoing.

Among those who have early AMD or no AMD they do not appear to be beneficial at all. Family members with AMD patients should check with their doctor before starting this regimen.

It is important to remember that vitamins are not a cure for AMD and will not give you back the vision you lost from this disease.

In certain cases, there are risks with taking supplements. Although, certain amounts of these do play a key role in helping some who are at high risk for AMD. Talk with your eye doctor to learn if you are at risk for AMD and if supplements will work for you.

Anti VEGF treatments, PDT, and laser surgery

The most common treatment for Wet AMD involves injecting a drug into the eye that stops the bleeding and vessel growth. These are known as VEGF blockers. They target a specific chemical in your body that will cause the growth of abnormal vessels under your retina. The chemical is vascular endothelial growth factor of VEGF. These treatments will improve vision on those who have wet AMD.

Photodynamic therapy of PDT uses laser and drugs to stop or slow down the leaking vessels.

These particular procedures may be able to save your site overall, although they are not cures to bring your vision back to what it used to be. Even if you have advanced medical treatment, most will have vision loss.

Making the most of the vision you have

In order to use the vision you have left, your eye doctor can prescribe low vision equipment that can help you with daily tasks or simply refer you to a specialty center. There are plenty of vision support centers and rehab programs to help those who have AMD to stay active and independent. Just because your side vision isn’t normally affected, the remaining sight can be useful. Often you will be able to continue with your daily tasks using low vision equipment like electronic aids, magnifiers, large print reading material or talking to computerized items.