Macular degeneration is quickly becoming more prevalent in aging people. It is the leading cause of vision loss in the country as it affects more than 10 million Americans Here is some important information about this debilitating condition.

What is macular degeneration?

The macula is the portion of the retina that is responsible for central vision in the eye. It is crucial for reading, driving, recognizing objects like faces and colors, and seeing fine details in objects. Macular degeneration occurs when the macula deteriorates to the point where the affected person begins to have vision problems. when the macula begins to degenerate, it can cause major problems for those affected by it.

What happens with macular degeneration?

macular degeneration treatment

Ophthalmic image detailing the retina and optic nerve inside a human eye

When someone suffers from macular degeneration, the images the eyes see are not received correctly. As the disease progresses, you can experience blurred vision. If the condition worsens, central vision may be lost completely.

Types of macular degeneration

There are two main types of macular degeneration: exudative or “wet” and atrophic or “dry”. These two types of MD made up what is commonly referred to as age-related macular degeneration, or AMD.

  • Atrophic
    • A vast majority (about 90%) of people with MD have this type. It is caused by a aging and thinning of the macular tissues.
    • When it becomes too thin, it stops working.
    • Loss of vision is gradual
    • Currently no medicinal treatment available, but some people have benefited from vitamin therapy
  • Exudative
    • Only about 10-15% of people diagnosed with MD have this type.
    • This type can cause more damage than “dry” MD
    • Occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina that may leak fluid or blood that can blur central vision
    • Loss of vision is faster
    • The earlier it is treated, the better chances you have of retaining your vision

A third type of MD, Stargardt disease is a rare form of the condition. It is found in younger people and is caused by the presence of a recessive gene.

Stages of macular degeneration

Macular degeneration has three stages:

  • Early AMD

This stage of AMD is diagnosed by the presence of  drusen, yellow deposits beneath the retina. These deposits are normally discovered during eye exams.

  • Intermediate AMD

When AMD has progressed to this state, there can be some vision loss. But, most of the symptoms are not overtly noticeable. When the condition has progressed to this stage, its diagnosis may require specific tests along with a comprehensive eye exam.

  • Late AMD

At this stage,  the condition is advanced and vision loss is evident.

Causes of AMD

Although all of the factors that contribute to MD are not completely known, the two main factors are heredity and environment. Researchers do know that the causes of AMD and Stargardt disease are different. SD’s cause is purely genetic. Environmental factors have no bearing on it.

Risk factors

Although anyone can contract AMD, there are some definite risks factors that will put someone more at risk for it. These factors include:

  • Family history
  • Race – Caucasians have a greater risk of getting it than other races do
  • Smokers have a greater risk for contracting it than non-smokers are.
  • Females are more susceptible to AMD than males are
  • Some drugs may help cause AMD
  • High blood pressure
  • Light eye color
  • Obesity

Detecting AMD

Detecting AMD early is a major key to managing it and keeping it under control. The only way to detect AMD is through a comprehensive eye exam that includes eye dilation. So, it is crucial to have your eyes tested by a qualified professional regularly. Some specific tests your optometrist or ophthalmologist might perform include:

  • Visual acuity test
  • Dilated eye exam
  • Amsler grid
  • Fluorescein angiogram
  • Optical coherence tomography

Treating macular degeneration

There is currently no cure for AMD. However, there are some treatments available to slow its progression and improve vision. The FDA has recently approved some drug treatments to help slow the progression macular degenerationof wet AMD.  Also, certain nutritional interventions can also help to improve the condition. Some foods that have had positive results in improving the condition include cold-water fish such as salmon and others that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids.  Supplements that have contributed to improvement in the condition include lutein and zeaxanthin.

Macular degeneration is a serious condition that can have devastating effects if it is not treated quickly and properly. To learn more about macular degeneration or to schedule an eye exam, contact us today.