Like glaucoma, macular degeneration is a preventable form of vision loss. With macular degeneration, your ability to see clearly at the center of your vision becomes impaired. While there is no cure for macular degeneration, there are safe and effective methods to slow or stop progression of the disease.
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
There may be no symptoms at all during the earliest stages of macular degeneration. Blurry vision is usually the first symptom patients note – beginning at the center of your field of vision, where you typically see fine details the best. Your peripheral vision is not affected by this disease.
The most common symptoms of macular degeneration include:
- Blurry vision
- Difficulty seeing in dim light
- Straight lines appear distorted or wavy
- Difficulty driving
- Familiar faces become difficult to recognize
- A dark spot or empty area at the center of your field of vision
- Difficulty reading smaller print
The visual impairment you experience is likely to develop slowly and gradually, becoming progressively worse with time. Left untreated, macular degeneration can lead to irreversible vision loss.
Types of Macular Degeneration
The macula is the central part of the retina at the back of your eye. It contains photoreceptor cells that detect light and are responsible for detailed central vision, what is called your visual acuity.
There are different types of macular degeneration, with some being more common than others. The vast majority of people diagnosed with macular degeneration have one of these types:
The most common type of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), “dry” macular degeneration occurs as light-sensitive cells in the macula become damaged. It tends to affect one eye at a time. It is estimated that 1 in 10 people with dry macular degeneration eventually develop wet macular degeneration.
The less common type of AMD, wet macular degeneration involves the development of abnormal blood vessels under the retina. These blood vessels begin to leak, leading to more sudden and severe symptoms. This type of macular degeneration creates a large blind spot in the center of your field of vision. Wet macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in the elderly.
You may be more likely to develop macular degeneration if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Age 60 and up
- High blood pressure
- Diet high in saturated fats
In addition, the presence of drusen – fatty deposits – in your retina means you have an increased likelihood of developing more severe macular degeneration in the future.
Regular visits with your eye doctor play a significant role in identifying the earliest signs of macular degeneration. When caught early enough, progression of the disease can be slowed or even stopped.
Visual acuity tests, which are a part of all routine eye exams measure your ability to see at different distances and can help highlight the impact macular degeneration may be having on your sight. An exam that includes dilation is necessary for your doctor to examine the condition of your retina.
If macular degeneration is suspected, your ophthalmologist may recommend additional diagnostic testing.
Preventing Macular Degeneration
Preventing macular degeneration typically involves avoiding or correcting certain risk factors for the disease. For example, regular exercise and good nutrition can help promote good eye health – as can quitting smoking. A healthy diet that helps to combat macular degeneration may include:
Eating a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables – especially those that contain high levels of vitamin C and carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxanthin – can help slow the development of macular degeneration. This includes produce like broccoli, citrus, bananas, carrots, apples, corn, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, kale, and spinach.
Avoiding processed foods and other contributors to cholesterol buildup in the body is crucial. High-cholesterol foods damage blood vessels throughout your body, including in your eyes. Food and beverages to avoid include soft drinks, French fries, potato chips, candy, and commercially-made baked goods.
Treating Macular Degeneration
The typical treatment for macular degeneration, when caught at the intermediate to advanced stage, involves supplements and/or medications.
These are specific combinations of vitamins and minerals recommended by ophthalmologists for patients diagnosed with dry macular degeneration. The amount of these vitamins and minerals is far greater than what can be gained through diet alone.
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and its follow-up study, AREDS2, were clinical trials conducted by the National Eye Institute. The nutritional formulas used in AREDS and AREDS2 have been shown to be effective at slowing or stopping the progression of age-related macular degeneration in 25% of people.
Ask your ophthalmologist which vitamin and mineral combination may be right for you.
For patients with wet macular degeneration, medication that stops the growth of abnormal blood vessels can effectively stop advanced progression of age-related macular degeneration. These anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) drugs are typically injected into the white of your eye on a monthly basis. Numbing drops are administered prior to the injection, so you feel no pain during this quick in-office procedure.
Anti-VEGF injections have been found to stabilize vision in the vast majority of people who receive the treatment – and even to improve vision for 1 out of 3 people who receive it.
Laser photocoagulation involves the use of an intense beam of light – instead of a scalpel – to destroy abnormal blood vessels in the eye. It is used to better control bleeding in patients with wet macular degeneration.
Ask your ophthalmologist if you are a good candidate for this type of laser surgery.
Preserve your vision by acting now. Regular visits to your eye doctor play a key role in the early identification of macular degeneration.
If you or your doctor suspects macular degeneration, make an appointment to see a local ophthalmologist, who specializes in detecting and treating eye diseases, including macular degeneration. Call the South Florida Vision Associates ophthalmology location nearest you to schedule your visit – or request an appointment now.