Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million Americans - more than cataracts and glaucoma combined! Unfortunately there isn’t a cure for this disease. Macular degeneration is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, the part of our eye responsible for acquiring the image before it is sent via our optic nerve from the eye to the brain. The retina’s central portion is known as the macula. This area is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye which controls our ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colors.
If you compare the human eye to a camera, the macula is the central and most sensitive area - similar to the film. When working properly, the macula collects highly detailed images at the center of the field and sends them to the optic nerve to the brain. The brain interprets these images as sight. When the cells have deteriorated, images are not received correctly. In early stages, macular degeneration does not affect vision. Later, if the disease progresses people experience wavy or blurred vision. IF the conditions continue to worsen, central vision may be completely lost. Since the rest of the retina is still working, the peripheral vision is still intact. This area of the vision is used more to detect movement and shapes and doesn’t offer as much detail. People with advance macular degeneration are considered legally blind.
Are there different types of Macular Degeneration?
There are two basic types of ARMD: dry (atrophic) and wet (exudative). Most cases, 85-90% are the dry form. The wet form of macular degeneration means that the blood vessels behind the retina have sprung a leak and are forcing fluid into the macula. For this article we are going to concentrate on the dry form.
Stages of Macular degeneration
Early ARMD - Most people do not experience vision loss in the early stage of ARMD, which is why regular eye exams are important, particularly if you have more than one risk factor (see below). Early ARMD is diagnosed by the presence of yellow deposits beneath the retina called drusen. Early symptoms may include:
- Gradual loss of ability to see objects clearly
- Shape of objects appears distorted
- Straight lines look wavy or crooked
- Loss of clear color vision
- Dark or empty areas in the center of your vision
Intermediate ARMD - At this stage there may be some vision loss, but there still may not be noticeable symptoms. At your comprehensive eye exam specific tests will be done to look for changes to the macula to look for drusen and/or pigment changes in the retina.
Late AMD - If you have reached this stage vision loss has become noticeable.
If you do experience any of the following symptoms contact Pycraft Family Eye Care immediately for a comprehensive eye examination.
Risk Factors for ARMD
The biggest risk factor for Macular degeneration is age. Your risk increases as you age, and the disease is most likely to occur in those 55 and older.
Other Risk Factor include:
- Genetics - people with a family history of ARMD
- Race - Caucasians are more likely to develop the disease than African Americans or Hispanics.Latinos
- Smoking - smoking doubles the risk of developing macular degeneration
Causes of ARMD
The specific factors that cause ARMD are conclusively unknown. At this point, what is know about macular degeneration is that the causes are complex and include both heredity and environmental components. There is a lot of research going into what causes the cell of the macula to deteriorate, seeking a macular degeneration breakthrough.
Dr. Carl Kupfer, the former Director of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, has stated that Macular Degeneration will soon take on aspects of an epidemic as the Baby Boomers’ age: “As the “baby boom” generation ages, and in the absence of further prevention and treatment advances, the prevalence of AMD is estimated to reach epidemic proportions of 6.3 million Americans by the year 2030.”
What treatments exist?
There is currently no know cure for macular degeneration, but there are things that you can do to reduce your risk and possibly slow the progression once you’ve been diagnosed. A healthy lifestyle including regular exercise and a diet with lots of green leafy vegetables can help slow the affects of the disease. Protecting your eyes from ultraviolet light with sunglasses can also help. Avoiding smoking is probably the most important thing to prevent macular degeneration.