What Is Macular Degeneration?
The full name for this eye disease is Age-Related Macular Degeneration or AMD. This problem occurs when age-related changes occur in the central portion of the retina, an area called the macula. As this area deteriorates, blank or dark areas or distortions may begin to affect the center of one’s eyesight. That’s normally the part of our eyesight vital to many daily activities such as driving, reading, working on a computer or recognizing the faces of friends.
When AMD damages a person’s central eyesight, they will normally retain their peripheral eyesight, but this eyesight is not as sharp. A person may be classified as legally blind because they cannot function normally when central sight is damaged. They may need special instruction on how to function independently.
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Macular Degeneration Causes
As a person ages, they may develop yellow deposits within the cells of the macula. These deposits are called drusen. When a doctor examines the inside of a patient’s eye to diagnose AMD, they are looking for these drusen. Eighty percent of people with AMD suffer from this type of the disease. This is called dry macular degeneration.
A small number of people with AMD experience the growth of tiny new blood vessels in the macula. These abnormal vessels leak blood which causes scarring of the macula. This is called wet AMD. Sight loss is normally significantly faster with wet AMD.
Macular Degeneration Symptoms And Signs
An early form of AMD may exist but cause no symptoms or pain. What normally sends people to their doctor for help is a symptom like one of these:
- Sudden or gradual loss of central vision
- Difficulty reading
- Difficulty perceiving detail
- Distortions in vision, such as straight lines appearing wavy
Treating Macular Degeneration
For dry AMD, there are no proven treatments yet. There are ways to slow down or prevent more serious symptoms, which you can find below.
For wet AMD, using a laser to seal off broken, abnormal blood vessels can help prevent the progression of the disease but it cannot restore lost vision. There are also some medications that have been helpful in stopping the growth of new blood vessels.
Dry Amd Versus Wet Amd
There are two variations of this eye disease. Dry age-related macular degeneration is the most common form of AMD (around 80 percent of patients have it) and it causes slow vision loss in your central field of vision. If you had dry age-related macular degeneration and looked at a clock, you would see the numbers but not the clock’s hands. This variation happens when the macula in the middle of the retina thins as you get older and small clusters of protein form called drusen.
While there are no treatments for dry AMD, AREDS vitamins may help. An Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) was done to determine if nutritional supplements could reduce drusen. The research suggested that these supplements could lower the risk of late-stage dry AMD and decrease the risk of wet AMD. These vitamins included Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Zinc and Copper. These nutrients aren’t a cure but may slow disease progression.
Wet age-related macular degeneration is a progressive form of this eye disease. Wet AMD occurs when blood vessels grow abnormally beneath the retina and may leak blood and fluids that scar the macula. People who develop wet AMD will lose vision quickly and may not realize they have this eye disease until they experience very blurry eyesight. Regular eye exams are crucial for detecting wet AMD early, before vision loss.
How Is Macular Degeneration Diagnosed?
If you know you have a higher risk of AMD, you can check your vision at home using an Amsler grid. When you look at the grid of intersecting lines, note any missing or wavy lines. Our Ophthalmologists will have you look at an Amsler grid during your eye exam to determine if you see distorted, blurry, or missing spots. Our eye doctors will use a special lens to peer inside your eye. Dilating eye drops are used to enlarge your pupil for better viewing access to examine the macula and retina at the back of each eye.
Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a machine that scans your retina to capture detailed images, and fluorescein angiography may be done to see what may be wrong with the retina. With this test, our Ophthalmologists inject a yellow dye (fluorescein) into a vein in your arm that travels to your blood vessels. A specialized camera documents how the dye travels through the blood vessels in your eye to see if there are abnormal growths under the retina.
Annual comprehensive eye exams can identify these issues early, but make sure to schedule an appointment if you notice wavy lines or blank spots in your central field of vision or any changes in your eye health.
Macular Degeneration Risk Factors
Macular degeneration seems to have a familial link, so you are more likely to develop this eye disease if one or more family members have AMD. A diet heavy in saturated fat, such as cheese, butter and meat, is another risk factor, as is being overweight. Smoking cigarettes and hypertension (high blood pressure) also increase your chances of AMD. People over 50 years old are more at risk.
Fortunately, there are lifestyle and dietary changes that have been helpful in preventing this problem or reducing the amount of damage done.
- Consume cold water fish with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon
- Supplements containing lutein and zeaxanthin have been shown to help
- Stop smoking immediately or don’t start
- Protect eyes from ultraviolet light
- Get vigorous exercise a few times a week
- Keep your weight within normal levels for your size and age
The most important way to prevent damage to your eyes from AMD is to schedule regular visits with your eye doctor. It’s important to see the early signs of this problem for you to have a chance at warding off the worst of its effects. To experience the excellence and personal care of St. Michael’s Eye and Laser Institute and find out if you are showing any signs of AMD, please call us: 727-585-2200.