Age-related macular degeneration impacts over 10 million Americans over age 50. It is the leading cause of blindness in people over 55. As the population ages it is expected that by 2020 nearly 20 million people could be affected by the disease.
What is Macular Degeneration?
The macula refers to the central portion of the retina, and is the part responsible for seeing fine detail both at distance and near. There are two types of macular degeneration, dry and wet. In the dry form, there is a loss of retinal elements in the macular area, leading to decreased vision.
In the wet form, a net of abnormal blood vessels develops deep in the retina. Those vessels leak fluid into the overlying structures, impairing their function. The abnormal vessels may go on to bleed, causing further damage to the retina. In late stages, the blood is replaced by scar tissue, causing irreversible visual loss.
When the abnormal blood vessels are identified early, there are a number of treatments available to slow their progression, or even to cause them to regress.
Treatment for Macular Degeneration
The main treatment for the dry form of macular degeneration is nutritional supplementation. In particular, zinc and high doses of antioxidants are often recommended to prevent further deterioration.
The treatments for the wet form are aimed at either destroying the abnormal vessels, (using lasers or photodynamic therapy) or using drugs that are called VEGF inhibitors. VEGF stands for Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor, a chemical the body produces that make blood vessels grow. When this factor is lessened abnormal vessels that they caused tend to shrink.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How can I tell if I have macular degeneration?
A. Only an eye care professional can accurately diagnose whether or not you have macular degeneration. If you have blurry vision it may or may not be macular degeneration, but it is certainly cause for you to visit your eye doctor.
The chart below, called an Amsler grid, is used in self-testing for macular degeneration. If you normally wear glasses use them for the test. Cover one eye and stare at the dot in the center of the grid. If any of the lines appear wavy or if there are dark spots or breaks in the lines, or if you cannot see the corners, you should immediately get a thorough eye exam.
Q. Should I watch for any particular symptoms and notify my eye doctor if they occur?
A. If you have been diagnosed with macular degeneration, you should use the Amsler grid to monitor any further changes and notify your doctor if you see any. You should also notify him or her of any decrease in your vision that occurs.
Q. Is heredity an important factor in macular degeneration?
A. Macular degeneration is due to a combination of multiple factors including gene mutations or variations and environmental factors such as sunlight exposure, diet and smoking. A number of genes have been studied with regard to their influence in causing macular degeneration. The use of sunglasses over the course of a lifetime, as well as stopping smoking and eating a well-balanced diet are all useful in decreasing macular degeneration risk.
Q. If I get AMD in one eye, will I get it in the other?
A. Not necessarily, but if it develops in one eye the likelihood of it developing in the other is increased.
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