What is Macular Degeneration?


Macular Degeneration Defined

Macular Degeneration (a.k.a., Age-Related Macular Degeneration) is the deterioration of the macula, which is the small central area of the retina of the eye that controls visual acuity, or sharpness of vision. The health of the macula determines a persona's ability to read, recognize faces, drive, watch television, use a computer, and perform any other visual tasks that requires on to see fine detail.

Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among older North Americans, and due to the aging of the population, the number of people affected by age related macular degeneration is expected to increase significantly in the years ahead. The early detection of macular degeneration, through regular eye exams, is essential to prevent irreversible vision loss. Schedule an appointment with an optometrist today!

Types Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is diagnosed as either dry (non-neovascular) or wet (neovascular). Neovascular refers to growth of new blood vessels in an area, such as the macula, where they are not supposed to be present. The dry form is more common than the wet form, with about 85 to 90 percent of macular degeneration patients diagnosed with dry form. The wet form of the disease typically leads to more serious vision loss.

Dry Macular Degeneration

Dry Macular Degeneration is an early stage of the disease and may result from the aging and thinning of macular tissues, depositing of pigment in the macula or a combination of the two processes. Dry macular degeneration is the most common form, accounting for approximately 90% of all cases. It occurs when the macula thins and breaks down over time, resulting in the formation of drusen, small yellow deposits beneath the retina. While progression is typically slower than wet macular degeneration, it can still lead to significant vision loss. Dry Macular Degeneration

Wet Macular Degeneration

Wet macular degeneration is less common but more aggressive than dry AMD. With wet macular degeneration, new blood vessels grow beneath the retina and leak blood and fluid. This leakage causes permanent damage to light-sensitive retinal cells, which die off and create blind spots in central vision. This abnormal blood vessel growth, is the body's misguided way of attempting to create a new network of blood vessels to supply more nutrients and oxygen to the eye's retina. Instead, the process creates scarring, leading to sometimes severe central vision loss. Prompt diagnosis and intervention are crucial to minimize vision loss in wet AMD. Wet Macular Degeneration

Symptoms of Macular Degeneration

Recognizing the early signs and symptoms of macular degeneration is essential for timely intervention. Common symptoms include:
  • Blurred or distorted central vision
  • Difficulty reading or recognizing faces
  • Straight lines appearing wavy or distorted
  • Dark or empty areas in the central vision
  • Decreased colour perception
It's important to note that macular degeneration typically affects both eyes, although one eye may be affected more severely than the other.

Treatments for Macular Degeneration

While there is currently no cure for macular degeneration, several treatments can help slow its progression and manage symptoms:
  • Lifestyle Modifications. A healthy lifestyle can play a significant role in managing macular degeneration. This includes eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and protecting your eyes from harmful UV radiation.
  • Nutritional Supplements. Studies have shown that certain nutritional supplements, such as vitamins C and E, zinc, copper, lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids, may help slow the progression of macular degeneration, particularly in its early stages. Consult your eye care professional before starting any supplements.
  • Anti-VEGF Injections. For wet macular degeneration, anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) injections are the primary treatment option. These injections help reduce the growth of abnormal blood vessels and prevent further leakage of fluid into the retina.
  • Photodynamic Therapy (PDT). PDT involves injecting a light-sensitive drug into the bloodstream, which is then activated by laser light to destroy abnormal blood vessels beneath the retina.
  • Low Vision Aids. Low vision aids such as magnifiers, telescopes, and electronic devices can help individuals with macular degeneration maximize their remaining vision and maintain independence in daily activities.

The Importance of Annual Eye Exams

Regular eye exams are essential for the early detection and management of macular degeneration. During an eye exam, your optometrist can perform various tests to assess the health of your retina and detect signs of macular degeneration, even before symptoms appear. Early intervention is critical in preserving vision and minimizing the impact of macular degeneration on your daily life. Furthermore, annual eye exams are an opportunity for your optometrist to monitor any changes in your eye health, adjust your treatment plan as needed, and provide guidance on lifestyle modifications to reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration or other eye conditions.

Macular degeneration is a serious eye condition that can have a significant impact on your vision and quality of life. By understanding its causes, symptoms, available treatments, and the importance of annual eye exams, you can take proactive steps to preserve your vision and maintain optimal eye health. Remember, your eyes are precious, so prioritize their care and schedule regular eye exams with an optometrist. Your vision depends on it. Check out our index to learn more about other eye-diseases and disorders.

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If you have macular degeneration, saturated and trans fats from red meat, whole milk, fried foods, and baked goods can increase your vision damage. Also limit omega-6 fatty acids from sunflower, safflower, and corn oils. Olive and canola oils are healthier cooking choices.

The most common form of the disease, dry macular degeneration, usually progresses slowly over years. Wet macular degeneration generally causes more rapid loss of vision. Loss of reading ability can occur in a few days.