Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness among people over age 65. Symptoms appear slowly and painlessly and can be detrimental to central vision if left untreated. There is not way to reverse macular degeneration completely but the progression can be stalled and the ongoing damage to retina can be managed with the available modern treatment options.
There are two types of macular degeneration: dry (more common, accounting for 90 percent of cases) and wet (less common but more damaging). However, both types have similar symptoms and causes.
Wet Macular Degeneration vs Dry
Macular degeneration is an ophthalmic condition that affects the centre of the retina. The retina is located at the back of the eye and is sensitive to light stimulation. A part of the retina known as the macula is essential for clear frontal vision. Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of permanent vision loss in people over the age of 60.
Macular degeneration does not result in total blindness, because it only affects “straight-ahead” (central) vision. Those suffering from this condition will retain their peripheral vision. According to studies, several million people in the world have macular degeneration. As people age and lifespan increases, this number is expected to grow in the coming years.
In order to find the proper treatment and care, it is important to understand the different types of macular degeneration. There are two major types of macular degeneration, dry and wet.
“Dry” (Atrophic) Macular Degeneration
Dry macular degeneration is the most common form of the condition, affecting approximately 90 percent of sufferers. In this type of macular degeneration, the macula may begin to get thin, pigment may be deposited on the macula or both of these events may occur together. Vision loss may occur, but it is typically not as severe as the loss seen in the wet form of macular degeneration.
Current practices and studies suggest that nutrients and vitamins including beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E may prevent or slow the progression of the degeneration.
“Wet” (Neovascular) Macular Degeneration
The wet type of this condition affects approximately 10 percent of those with macular degeneration. In wet macular degeneration, the blood vessels under the retina begin to leak blood and other fluid, which often results in severe eye damage and permanent blindness. Typical treatments for this type of macular degeneration involve the use of FDA-approved drugs and photodynamic therapy.
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is a condition that affects the retina of the eye. As the most common cause of blindness and vision loss in people over the age of 60, this condition can have a devastating impact on those it affects. In order to help prevent the condition and take advantage of available treatments, learning how to recognize the symptoms of macular degeneration is essential.
The Effects of Macular Degeneration
In individuals suffering from macular degeneration, the light-sensing cells in the retina at the back of the eye stop working and may eventually die. The section of the retina affected by the disease is known as the macula and is responsible for sharp, clear, central vision. As the disease progresses, the individual will begin to lose his “straight-ahead” vision, although they will generally retain their peripheral sight.
Macular degeneration affects more than 15 million people in the United States alone, with more than 2 million new cases diagnosed each year. Early detection allows people to utilize treatments that may slow the progression of the disease, which is why people should have their eyes examined regularly by an eye care professional and watch for possible symptoms of macular degeneration.
Common Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
The progression of macular degeneration is generally slow and painless. The earliest symptoms of the disease include blurry central vision or visual distortions. Because macular degeneration usually begins so slowly, many people do not immediately realize that they are progressively losing their sight.
Due to the way the disease advances, eye care professionals are generally able to detect macular degeneration before the patient does. When people age, eyesight begins to worsen as the cells in the retina become less capable of receiving, processing and transmitting information. The retina may begin to thin, making eyesight progressively worse. Eventually, deposits known as drusen may appear under the retina. In some cases, retinal pigment may also be disturbed. In order to receive the appropriate macular degeneration treatment as soon as possible, people should have regular eye exams to check for the symptoms of macular degeneration.
Causes of Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is the most common source of vision loss among people over the age of 60, impact more than 15 million people in the United States alone. What causes this potentially devastating disease? While the condition is often described as an age-related illness, there are a number of different factors that can contribute to the development of macular degeneration.
The aging process is perhaps the biggest cause of macular degeneration. As people get older, the retina becomes thinner which can result in significant vision loss. According to recent studies, the prevalence of the disease increases significantly between the ages of 60 and 90, jumping from 1 percent of the population to nearly 15 percent during those years.
Several recent studies have found genetic components that may contribute to the development of macular degeneration. Variants of two genes in particular, complement factor H and complement factor B, have been found in people suffering from macular degeneration. For this reason, people with a family history of the condition should have regular eye exams.
According to a recently published study, more than 25 percent of macular degeneration cases can be linked to smoking. Researchers suggest that smoking doubles the chances of an individual developing macular degeneration later in life.
High Blood Pressure and Obesity
Recent European studies suggest that there is a link between high blood pressure and macular degeneration. Other studies have found that overweight people are twice as likely to develop the disease. Researchers have also found that regular physical activity lowers the likelihood of developing macular degeneration.
Light Eye Color
While the exact reasons are not clear, people with light skin and eye colors are far more likely to suffer from macular degeneration as they age. Some experts suggest that the extra pigment in dark eyes acts as a protective agent, but there is no conclusive evidence that this is the case.
In order to protect their eyesight, people should understand the possible causes of macular degeneration. Knowing the risk factors and getting regular eye exams can help detect potential problems early.
Macular Degeneration Treatment Options
Once macular degeneration has been diagnosed, it is essential to begin the appropriate treatment immediately. Unfortunately, there is no FDA-approved treatment for many cases of this condition. While there is no cure for the disease, there are treatments and techniques to slow the progress of macular degeneration. The following are some of the most frequently used macular degeneration treatments.
Nutritional Treatments for Macular Degeneration
The most common type of the condition is generally known as “dry” macular degeneration. While this type affects nearly 90 percent of those with macular degeneration, there is no FDA-approved treatment. However, research has shown that nutritional therapies can help slow the progression of the disease and prevent it from developing into the more severe form of the condition known as “wet” macular degeneration.
In one study sponsored by the National Eye Institute, high levels of certain vitamins and antioxidants were shown to have positive results. Vitamins A, E and C along with certain nutrients such as zinc and lutein have been shown to slow or even halt the progression of macular degeneration. Before beginning any new nutritional regimen, patients should always discuss their plan with their primary care physician and eye care professional.
Drug Therapies for Macular Degeneration
For individuals with the more severe, wet form of macular degeneration, there are a number of FDA-approved drug treatments that have shown some success. Macugen, Lucentis, Avastin and Evison are four of the drugs that have been shown to effectively treat the disease during patient therapy and clinical trials.
Photodynamic Therapy for Macular Degeneration
Photodynamic therapy is another method that has demonstrated success in treating the wet form of macular degeneration. This relatively new treatment involves injecting a dye, which is then transported via the bloodstream to the retina of the eye. A low-energy laser is then applied to the macula of the retina to destroy leaking blood vessels without causing damage to healthy eye tissue.
While macular degeneration is a serious condition, there are available treatments that allow patients to cope with the disease. Early detection is essential in order to begin a treatment regimen that is suited to the particular type of macular degeneration that the patient has.
With the treatment options mentioned above, the situations and conditions leading to macular degeneration can be reversed and the disease process can thus be controlled preventing further loss of vision.
Photo by National Eye Institute