Macular degeneration is currently considered incurable, but more and more research suggests that you can reduce risk and possibly slow its progression if you’ve been diagnosed.
Read on to learn how AMD is diagnosed and treated — and what you can do to preserve and prolong your vision.
AMD: The basics
Macular degeneration is caused by the deterioration of the macula, which is the small, central part of the retina. The retina is the layer at the back of the eye which records what we see and sends it to the brain via the optic nerve. The macula itself focuses central vision, which allows us to read, drive, and recognize colors and faces — anything that relates to interpreting fine detail.
If the eye is a camera, then the macula is the part of the film with the highest sensitivity. When the macula begins to deteriorate, images are sent incorrectly to the brain. How your vision is affected depends on your stage of macular degeneration.
Early on, AMD won’t affect vision. But if it progresses, you may experience blurriness or waviness in your vision. As the condition gets worse, you may lose all of your central vision. Those with advanced AMD are considered legally blind, even though their peripheral vision may still be intact.
The leading cause of vision loss today
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in the U.S. — affecting more Americans than glaucoma and cataracts combined. And with our aging population, the number of people affected will only increase in the future.
The sooner you schedule a comprehensive eye exam with an eye care professional, the better your chance of prolonging your vision.
What are the two types of macular degeneration?
Severity of vision loss and related treatment depends on the type of macular degeneration you have. There are two types of AMD — wet and dry.
1. Wet macular degeneration
Wet, or neovascular, macular degeneration accounts for about 10 to 15 percent of those with AMD. It often leads to more severe vision loss than dry AMD. Wet AMD is caused when blood vessels under the retina leak fluid, which damages light-sensitive cells and creates blind spots within your central vision.
- Occult, where leakage is less severe and damage to vision is not as pronounced.
- Classic, in which blood vessel growth is very pronounced and causes more severe central vision loss.
Wet AMD can be classified in two ways:
2. Dry macular degeneration
Dry, or non-neovascular, macular degeneration is more common than wet, accounting for roughly 85 to 90 percent of macular degeneration cases. It is an early stage of the eye disease
- Thinning of the macula, due to age,
- Pigment seeping into the macula,
- Or a combination of both.
Dry AMD’s causes can include:
If your eye doctor diagnoses you with dry macular degeneration, then he or she most likely has found drusen, or yellow spots of deterioration, in your macula. Dry macular degeneration is usually not as severe as wet AMD, but over time, deterioration may progress beyond central vision loss to late-stage geographic atrophy, or GA, and more severe vision loss.
The 3 stages of AMD
1. Early AMD
In the early stage of age-related macular degeneration, vision loss is unlikely. But that’s all the more reason why you should have your eyes checked regularly. When you schedule a comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor can check for drusen, the yellowish deposits that indicate macular deterioration. Getting your eyes checked is especially important as you age — and if you have two or more AMD risk factors.
2. Intermediate AMD
Some vision loss may occur at the intermediate AMD stage, but you still might not notice any symptoms. Your doctor can check for drusen during your comprehensive eye exam to see if there is any deterioration.
3. Late AMD
You will experience vision loss during the late stage of age-related macular degeneration. Consulting with an eye care professional should be your top priority to slow AMD’s progression.
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What are the causes of macular degeneration?
It’s still unknown what the exact causes of age-related macular degeneration are. However, research suggests there is an environmental component as well as a hereditary, or genetic, one.
Some researchers have found that cells deprived of oxygen produce a protein that stimulates new blood vessel growth in the retina — too much of that protein means the extra blood vessels can break and leak blood or fluid, causing damage to the macula.
Risk Factors for AMD
If you have more than one risk factor for AMD, you especially need to see your eye doctor. Some factors are genetic, which you can’t control, while some are environmental, which you can control to some degree.
Take note of which factors you have from the list below. You will want to share this information at your comprehensive eye examination.
Age is the biggest risk factor
The biggest risk factor is your age. The older you get, the more likely AMD can occur. Around 7 percent of people over 40 have some level of macular degeneration. That figure jumps up to 12.5 percent for people 60 and older. An astonishing 33 percent of those over 80 have AMD.
Being overweight and inactive
Obese and overweight patients with AMD are twice as likely to develop advanced levels of macular degeneration, according to studies. That same study, however, suggested that incorporating vigorous activity into your lifestyle three or more times a week can reduce your likelihood of developing advanced levels of AMD.
Having a family history of AMD
Certain variants of genes are present in those with age-related macular degeneration. This seems to indicate heredity is a factor. If AMD is in your family history, you have a higher risk.
Your race and sex
Caucasians have a higher risk for AMD than African-Americans or Hispanics. Females are also have a higher risk than males.
Having high blood pressure
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is associated with developing AMD, according to research.
Being a smoker
Research has found a very strong correlation between smoking and development of macular degeneration. It’s estimated that smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to develop AMD.
And there are many, many other reasons why you should give up this habit. The sooner you quit smoking, the better your chances are of living a healthier life.
Side effects from certain drugs
Taking certain toxic drugs may increase your risk of developing macular degeneration. It is crucial that you inform your eye doctor what medications you are taking or have taken so he or she may accurately assess your risk.
Having light-colored eyes? (Inconclusive)
Some studies suggest that sunlight over-exposure might be a factor in developing AMD. This is because Caucasians are thought to have a higher risk, and those with lighter skin often have lighter eye color. Evidence for this theory is inconclusive, however. Some researchers have found no correlation between eye color and macular degeneration risk.
Regardless, it is still important to protect your eyes from exposure to sunlight’s UV rays. So you should still make sure to wear eye protection both in the summer and in the winter
AMD’s only consistent risk factors
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, reports on the risk factors for age-related macular degeneration are varied and sometimes contradict other studies.
But the only two risk factors that never fail to come up in studies?
You can’t control your age, but you can control whether you continue smoking!
Macular degeneration treatment
Age-related macular degeneration currently has no known cure. Central vision loss cannot be restored.
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with AMD, or if you may have more than one risk factor, the best course of action is to schedule a comprehensive eye exam, as well as regular eye exams. This gives you the chance to have your eyes tested, and you can talk with trusted eye care professionals, like we have here at Perrysburg Eye Center.
At your comprehensive eye exam, you’ll learn more about your diagnosis, as well as available treatment options.
Dry macular degeneration involves thinning of the macula and cannot be reversed or cured. On the other hand, wet macular degeneration may be treated via laser treatment, designed to block the blood vessels which have leaked and caused macular damage. Another form of treatment involves injecting medication into the eye or bloodstream to possibly slow — but not cure — damage progression.
How to reduce risk of macular degeneration
Are there any cures for macular degeneration? No. But there are a few things you can do on your own that may help with lowering your risk for AMD and minimizing your loss of vision:
- Stop smoking.
- Eat green, leafy vegetables and fruit.
- Include omega-3 fatty acids in your diet several times a week.
- Skip processed junk foods.
- Pay attention to your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.
- Exercise often, including vigorous aerobic activity.
- Keep a healthy weight via nutrition and exercise.
- Wear eye protection to protect from UV rays, as well as blue light (which can come from electronic devices!)
Schedule your next eye exam with Perrysburg Eye Center
Contact us today for more information about macular degeneration and our eye care services by calling (419) 874-3125, or you can schedule a visit as a patient.