What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration is an eye condition that is the number one cause of legal blindness in people over the age of 50. It affects the macula, a small area on your retina in the back of your eye that is responsible for the ability needed for reading, driving and other fine-detail work. There are two types of age-related macular degeneration (AMD):
Dry macular degeneration accounts for 90% of the cases. Under your retina, yellow deposits called drusen can naturally form as you age. Having some drusen is normal and doesn’t mean you have AMD, but if the drusen grow too large or numerous, they can gradually thin your macula and cause dry age-related macular degeneration.
Wet macular degeneration occurs in 10% of the cases. Sometimes, dry AMD will progress to the wet form. If abnormal blood vessels below your retina start to leak fluid or blood, it can cause rapid and severe vision loss. If you have dry AMD, it’s important to monitor your vision closely for signs of wet AMD.
What are The Symptoms of Macular Degeneration?
Signs that you may be experiencing macular degeneration include:
- Gradual dimming to your vision from the center outward
- Distortions in your vision, for example, straight lines that appear to curve
- Difficulty adjusting to changes in light
- A sudden loss of central vision resulting in a dark or empty area
- Problems distinguishing between different colors
These symptoms can occur in one or both of your eyes and, if they only affect one eye, it may take much longer for you to notice these symptoms.
What Causes Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration often occurs as a natural part of aging and primarily affects people over the age of 50. There are other forms of macular degeneration, but we’ll consider only age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, here.
Our bodies are always balancing the good and bad effects of oxygen. We need oxygen to live, but oxygen can also damage our cells. Some people, including one in three Caucasians, have genes that predispose their macula to damage from oxygen. There are DNA tests that determine your risk.
Some preventable factors may change your risk for age-related macular degeneration. Smoking increases your risk more than twofold. Abnormal cholesterol levels as well as hypertension may also increase your risk. The biggest factors, however, are not preventable: your genes and your age.
Can Macular Degeneration be Prevented?
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for macular degeneration and, if a genetic test tells you you’re at risk, there’s no way to prevent the disease entirely.
There are, however, some lifestyle choices that can prove beneficial to fighting this condition. If you smoke, quitting is a good idea. If your cholesterol is high, treating it effectively may help. Adding exercise and making healthy diet changes are effective ways to control your hypertension. Even if none of these helps your vision, it’s still in your best interest.
Scientific studies have shown that certain nutritional supplements can lower the risk of AMD by about 25%. However, the supplements are not a cure and they will not reverse damage already done. You should talk to an eye doctor to discuss whether supplements are right for you.
If you’re predisposed to develop AMD, it’s worth focusing on the positives. Catching the disease early can make a big difference to the amount of vision you can preserve. Damage done by the disease, even if it’s severe, will not take away all of your sight. Knowledge and early detection are the best weapons against AMD.
How Will Macular Degeneration Impact My Life?
Many people feel anxious or depressed after being diagnosed with macular degeneration because a loss of vision can severely impact our independence and productivity – affecting our ability to drive, read and even recognize the people around us.
Severe cases of macular degeneration can impact a patient’s ability to care for themselves and increases the risk of them coming to harm – for example, falling over an object they cannot see. This is a significant concern for more elderly patients or those in a more frail state.
Essentially, the key to maintaining a high quality of life with macular degeneration is in early diagnosis, as treatment options for the condition can help halt the loss of vision. This makes it vital that anyone with macular degeneration or who feels like they are experiencing these symptoms should visit a qualified eye doctor on a regular basis. At Eye Centers of Florida, we will help you to learn how to manage this condition effectively to ensure that you feel positive about your future.
Why Choose Eye Centers of Florida For Your Evaluation?
At Eye Centers of Florida, we have certified medical professionals on hand to give you a comprehensive eye exam that will clearly show if you are affected by an eye condition such as macular degeneration. Once we have a solid diagnosis, we will develop a state-of-the-art treatment plan to give you the best possible results.
How is Macular Degeneration Treated?
Although there is no cure for macular degeneration, there are some treatment options. Once you are diagnosed with either dry or wet macular degeneration, your eye doctor will develop a specific treatment plan for you:
Wet macular degeneration can be treated by injecting VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) blockers into your eye. These treatments target a specific chemical in your body that causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in your eye. It may stop the progression of the disease or even improve your vision.
In other cases, an outpatient laser surgery can slow or stop the leaking blood vessels from causing further damage to your eye.
Another surgical treatment called PDT, or photodynamic therapy, uses a special drug activated by a low-powered laser to close the abnormal blood vessels. This surgery doesn’t cause as much damage to the retina as regular laser surgery.
These two surgeries can cause some damage to your vision, but the damage can be much less than if age-related macular degeneration were allowed to progress unchecked.
Dry macular degeneration currently has no cure and, depending on the stage of the disease, your doctor may recommend a combination of nutritional supplements that have been shown to limit the progression of dry AMD. It’s important to discuss this treatment with your eye doctor to see whether it’s recommended.
Knowing that you have dry AMD may help you detect a possible progression to wet AMD early. There are many support services and assistive devices to help people with dry AMD lead active, independent lives.
When is The Right Time for Macular Degeneration to be Treated?
Macular degeneration of any kind needs to be treated as soon as possible. If you think you are having any of these symptoms (Link to Macular degeneration symptoms page), please contact your eye doctor as soon as possible, as vision loss from this condition is permanent.
What Can I Expect from Macular Degeneration Treatment?
At this time, the treatment options for macular degeneration cannot cure this condition. However, there are treatment options for both wet and dry macular degeneration that can offer you the best chance of halting your progressive loss of vision. It’s important to talk to your eye doctor about the latest treatments and which one is right for you as there are other treatments not mentioned here which might help in your case.
What’s Next? Get a Macular Degeneration Evaluation
At Eye Centers of Florida, we will ensure that your case is evaluated by an eye doctor experienced in diagnosing and treating age-related macular degeneration in order to get you the best results and treatment.
If you do not currently have this condition, a painless genetic test can tell you your risk of developing this condition later on in life so that you can stay alert for any signs of macular degeneration and get rapid treatment.
Request an appointment today.