Are you or someone you love having difficulty recognizing faces? Is reading becoming nearly impossible?
One of the most distressing parts of getting older for many is their declining vision.
Macular degeneration, specifically age-related macular degeneration, is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness among Americans age 55 and older.
According to the National Eye Institute, nearly 1.7 million Americans already have some form of age-related macular degeneration, with 100,000 of those affected now blinded by the disease.
Sadly that figure is expected to rise dramatically over the next decade as more and more Baby Boomers enter their golden years.
If you still have perfect vision, compare this photo from the National Institutes of Health with the one above to get a better idea of what macular degeneration does to your eyesight:
What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a progressive disease of the retina where the light-sensing cells in the central area of vision (the macula) stop functioning and eventually die.
While macular degeneration doesn’t result in complete blindness in many cases, as you can see above it causes a major visual disability even if you retain some eyesight. As our life expectancy continues to increase, so do cases of age-related macular degeneration.
That’s why I’m sharing how you can detect this vision menace… and what you can do to protect your eyesight before it’s too late.
Two main causes of macular degeneration
Since the overall life expectancy in the United States continues to increase, age-related macular degeneration has become a major public-health issue. There are two main causes / forms of macular degeneration:
Dry form — Characterized by single or multiple small, round, yellow-white spots called drusen in the macular. As they grow in size and increase in number, they may lead to a dimming or distortion of vision. 85% to 90% of people with macular degeneration have the dry form.
Wet form — Characterized by the growth of abnormal blood vessels underneath the macular. These blood vessels leak, bleed, and scar the retina, distorting or destroying central vision. The wet form is less common, but causes more severe damage to vision.
It’s important to realize that dry macular degeneration can lead to the much more serious wet form, so it is extremely important for those with dry macular degeneration to monitor their eyesight carefully and visit their eye doctor regularly.
Symptoms of macular degeneration
In the early stages of macular degeneration you may not notice any symptoms and the disease could go unrecognized until it progresses or affects both eyes. Symptoms usually develop gradually.
Maybe you need more light when reading or doing close work… have difficulty adapting to low light levels… or notice an increasing haziness in your overall vision? Other symptoms of macular degeneration include:
- Straight lines appear distorted or wavy.
- Blurred or decreased central close-up and distance vision.
- Diminished or changed color perception.
- Blind spots may develop in center of vision.
- Objects may appear smaller in one eye than the other.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it’s time for a checkup! Make an appointment to see an eye care professional as soon as possible.
Common risk factors and prevention
Age is the number one risk factor for developing macular degeneration, but there are other common factors associated with the disease.
Smoking — Throw away the cigarettes. New evidence strongly suggests smoking is high on the list of risk factors. Smokers are four times more likely to develop macular degeneration.
Obesity — Watch your weight. Macular degeneration can worsen with obesity – doubling the risk of developing advanced forms.
Inactivity — Exercise regularly. Vigorous activity at least three times weekly reduces your risk of developing advanced macular degeneration.
Heredity — Know your family medical history. Studies of fraternal and identical twins have demonstrated heredity is a factor in who develops macular degeneration and how severe it becomes.
High Blood Pressure — Maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Conditions that harm the blood flow or the tiny blood vessels that feed the macula can cause harm to your eyes.
Poor Nutrition — Watch what you eat. Individuals with diets high in fat, cholesterol and sugar, and low in antioxidants are more likely to be affected by age-related macular degeneration. Your diet should include plenty of leafy dark green vegetables and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
How macular degeneration is detected
Do you have routine eye examinations? They are important for early detection. The earlier the disease is detected the better your chance of delaying or reducing your loss of vision from macular degeneration (and other eye disorders).
Your health care professional will likely start with a comprehensive eye exam:
- Visual acuity test — This eye chart test measures your vision at various distances.
- Visual field test — This test measures your peripheral or side vision.
- Dilated eye exam — Drops are placed in your eyes to widen or dilate the pupils. Your eye doctor will then use a special magnifying lens to examine your retina and optic nerve.
- Tonometry — A quick puff of air is directed into your eye or a pressure-sensitive tip is placed near or against your eye to measure the eye pressure.
Other tests to learn more about the structure and health of your eye may include:
- Amsler Grid — You will be asked to cover one eye and stare at a black dot in the center of the grid that resembles graph paper. If straight lines in the pattern appear wavy, or some of the lines are missing, it could be a sign of macular degeneration.
- Fluorescein Angiogram — A special dye is injected into your vein. A special camera takes pictures of the dye as it moves through the blood vessels in the back of your eye. This allows your eye care professional to identify any leaking blood vessels and recommend treatment.
- Indocyanine Green Angiography — Infrared wavelength photography and a different intravenous dye is used to view the retina. This test can identify signs and types of wet macular degeneration that cannot be seen with fluorescein angiography.
Treatments for macular degeneration
There is currently no cure for macular degeneration. These treatments for wet age-related macular degeneration are available and may help decrease the amount of vision that is lost:
Angiogenesis Inhibitors — These drugs are injected into the eye to block the development of abnormal new blood vessels and prevent leakages that can damage to the macula.
Laser Photocoagulation — During this outpatient procedure, the eye is numbed and a high-energy laser heats, seals, and destroys abnormal, leaky blood vessels.
Photodynamic Therapy — A doctor injects the drug into the bloodstream to be absorbed by the abnormal blood vessels in the eye. The doctor then shines a cold laser into the eye to activate the drug and destroy the abnormal blood vessels.
Low Vision Aids — Devices with special lenses or electronic systems that produce enlarged images help those with vision loss make the most of their remaining vision.
Vitamins — While there is no treatment currently in place for dry macular degeneration, studies have shown that vitamins and nutritional intervention may help slow down or prevent the progression of dry macular degeneration into the wet form.
Studies performed by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health, called AREDS 1 & 2 (Age-Related Eye Disease Study), showed the following:
- Certain nutrients such as zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamins A, C and E decreased the likelihood of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration in some people.
- Antioxidants may protect against age-related macular degeneration by preventing free radicals or unstable oxygen from damaging the retina.
- Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, which are particularly prevalent in cold-water fish, also have a protective effect against advanced macular degeneration.
High levels of antioxidants and zinc have been shown to reduce the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration by about 25 percent.
Can you prevent macular degeneration?
Whether you’re still blessed with good vision, or have already been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration, it’s time to get serious about keeping your vision now – before losing your eyesight.
By using the knowledge we now have about how to prevent advanced macular degeneration from robbing you of your sight, or at least slowing it down if you have macular degeneration already (there is no known cure), you can greatly reduce your risk of further vision loss or permanent blindness.
I don’t need to tell you how important your eyesight is, but I will urge you to watch the free special presentation linked to below on what you can do now to protect yourself from the blinding effects of macular degeneration.
I’m not sure how long this informative presentation will be online, so you should make time to watch it today.