Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration often called ARMD is very common cause of vision loss and blindness among the elderly. It is the degeneration of the macular, which is the area of the retina that gives us sharp central vision which we use when driving, reading etc… Degeneration of the macular, therefore affects our central vision.

There are 2 forms of macular degeneration. Dry (non-neovascular) or wet (neovascular). The term neovascular here means the growth of new abnormal blood vessels in an area. The dry form is more common than the wet form, but the wet form results in much more serious vision loss.

Dry Macular Degeneration (non-neovascular)

Dry ARMD is the early stage of the disease. It is due to the thinning and deterioration of the tissues surrounding the macular. We find yellowish deposits called, drusen, surrounding the macular. These drusen deposits are from the deteriorating macular tissue. Slowly, you start losing your central vision. Over a period of years it can cause severe vision loss.

Studies have shown that vitamins A, C and E, can slow down the progression of dry macular degeneration. Therefore, the use of eye vitamins can reduce the risk of getting macular degeneration.

Wet Macular Degeneration (neovasvular)

Sometimes, dry ARMD will progress to the more advanced and damaging form of the disease, wet ARMD. With wet ARMD new abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the retina. These blood vessels are weak and start to leak blood onto the retinal cells which die off. This causes blind spots in your vision.

The growth of new blood vessels is the body’s way of providing more oxygen and nutrients to the area. Unfortunately, because these blood vessels are abnormal, they leak and cause scarring, leading to severe vision loss.

How do I know if I have Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration usually results in a slow painless loss of vision. Symptoms you may notice of macular degeneration are:

  1. shadowy areas in your central vision
  2. unusual distorted, fuzzy vision.

Your optometrist or ophthalmologist will be able to detect changes in the macular area before you notice any symptoms. This is done by:

  1. Retinal exam and,
  2. Amsler grid.

An Amsler grid is a chart consisting of black lines in a grid pattern.

If changes are detected, a fluorescein angiography will be done to examine the retinal blood vessels around the macular.

Causes and Risk factors for developing Macular Degeneration

  • Age

  • Hereditary

  • Being caucasian (white) and female. ARMD occurs more often in the white population and because they have a lighter eye colour, they are at higher risk from UV damage.

  • Obesity and inactivity

  • Sun over-exposure

  • High blood-pressure

  • Smoking

  • Drug side-effects

Treatment of Macular Degeneration

There is currently no cure for macular degeneration, but some treatments are available which may slow down the progression of the disease.

The only treatment for the dry form of macular degeneration is nutritional supplements which may prevent its progression to the wet form.

Zinc, lutein, vitamins A, C and E have been shown to reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and prevent its progression to the wet form.

For wet macular degeneration, treatment is aimed at stopping the growth of the abnormal blood vessels. This is done by the use of drugs injected into the eye. Certain drugs have been shown to improve vision lost to macular degeneration.

So, if you feel you may have symptoms of macular degeneration, or there is a history of the disease in your family, schedule an appointment with your optometrist or ophthalmologist as soon as you can.

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