Our eyes can be affected by many different diseases and conditions. Some are fairly minor and can resolve themselves with little or no treatment. However, there are some eye diseases that can have much more significant consequences. One of these is macular degeneration. Many people have heard of macular degeneration, which is estimated to affect around 11 million people in the United States – a number that is estimated to double in the next 30 years. Here’s what you need to know about macular degeneration and its effects.
Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration or AMD for short, gets its name from the part of the eye that is affected by it – the macula. The macula is an area of cells in the middle part of the retina, the patch of light-sensitive cells in the back of the eye that is responsible for receiving light and turning it into messages sent to the brain to be converted into images. The macula is responsible for the sharpness of vision. This means that while macular degeneration doesn’t cause total blindness, it can severely affect the quality of your vision and make most day-to-day activities difficult or impossible.
There are two types of macular degeneration. These are known as ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ AMD. Dry AMD is the most common by far and is caused by the very slow and gradual deterioration of the cells of the macula as a result of advancing age. Wet AMD is much rarer and causes symptoms to appear much more quickly. Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow in the macular and these leak blood and fluid that can cause scarring and vision loss. The signs of wet AMD appear quickly, and rapid treatment is needed to stop fast and irreversible damage to your vision.
Macular degeneration is most likely to develop in people who are over the age of 50, but there are also some other factors that are believed to increase your risk of it occurring. These include:
Being above the healthy weight range for your height
Drinking above the recommended alcohol intake
Taking recreational drugs
A poor diet
Spending excess time outside without UV eye protection
Many people expect any sort of eye problem to be painful, but this isn’t the case. Macular degeneration doesn’t usually cause any discomfort at all. However, there are symptoms associated with the disease. These include:
Distortion or dark spots in the center of your vision
Objects look smaller than normal
Lines that should be straight, such as lamp posts, seem wavy, bent, or otherwise distorted like you would find in a badly photo-shopped picture
Colors seem duller than they used to
Problems tolerating bright lights
Difficulties in carrying out day to day activities due to vision problems, including watching television, reading, driving, or even recognizing faces
Symptoms can affect one eye or both at the same time, although they may appear to develop at different rates.
Unfortunately, there isn’t currently an effective treatment for the most common form of macular degeneration – dry AMD. Once vision has been lost, it is impossible to restore it. However, there are things that you can do that could help to lower your risk of developing AMD and to slow the progression of the condition should it develop. This will include improving your lifestyle, making good food choices, using vision aids such as glasses or magnifying glasses, and making changes such as brighter lighting and screen aids. Your eye doctor will be happy to talk you through your options and help you find the best way to impact the effect that macular degeneration can and will have on your life.
If you have wet AMD, there is a chance that your condition can be treated. This usually involves an injection of anti-VGEFSs which will help to get the abnormal blood vessel growth in your eye under control, preventing any further bleeding and leaking which could worsen your vision loss.
Macular degeneration is nearly always detected at regular comprehensive eye exams, but if you are concerned about your vision, it’s crucial that you speak to our eye care team as soon as possible. Call us today to schedule your appointment.