At the most basic level, the retina, a layer of tissue at the back of the eye, is responsible for picking up the light we see and sending it through the optic nerve to the brain, where the images we see are processed. But what happens when part of the retina, specifically the macula, doesn’t work as it should? This is called macular degeneration (AMD) and is the main cause of irreversible near vision impairment in people aged 65 and over.
Macular degeneration affects the center of a person’s vision, typically the area of sharpest vision, and destroys the ability to see objects clearly. Peripheral vision is not affected by macular degeneration. In early cases, vision may become blurred, and may progress to complete loss of sharp vision in advanced cases. People with severe macular degeneration are considered blind.
Types of macular degeneration
Macular degeneration develops in two forms: wet and dry. The majority of cases, between 85 and 90%, are dry. Dry macular degeneration is classified based on the breakdown of the macula and supporting tissue. Dry macular degeneration can start in one eye before affecting both, and over time can affect a person’s ability to read and recognize faces. Other symptoms are blurred vision and the need to use bright lights to see clearly. However, dry macular degeneration does not always result in complete loss of vision.
Much less common, wet macular degeneration affects between 10 and 15% of sufferers. This form of the disease begins as dry macular degeneration. In later stages, abnormal blood vessels behind the retina leak blood or fluid into the macula. This form of macular degeneration is more sudden and can be more serious. Symptoms of wet macular degeneration include distorted vision, dark spots in vision, and the inability to see colors as clearly.
Macular degeneration progresses over time. There are three stages: early, intermediate and late. These stages are classified according to the size and number of fatty and yellow deposits under the retina. The presence of these deposits increases the risk of this condition.
Early: Vision loss is unlikely in the onset of macular degeneration, a time when deposits are about the width of a human hair. The deposits are detected and measured during an eye examination, which makes regular examinations important.
Intermediate: At this stage, deposits are large and there may be changes in retinal pigmentation. The appearance of both is possible. These changes cannot be detected with the naked eye, an examination is necessary. Although some vision loss is possible during the middle phase, it may not even be noticeable.
Late: During the later stages of macular degeneration, vision loss becomes apparent. This vision loss is caused in two ways: deterioration of the macula and surrounding tissue (dry) or leakage of abnormal blood vessels into the macula (wet).
AMD causes and risk factors
There is no definitive cause of macular degeneration, but experts believe that a combination of environmental and genetic factors cause it. A family history of this condition also increases the risk.
However, your genes are not entirely responsible. Smoking, obesity and cardiovascular disease have also been linked to a higher risk of macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is diagnosed by an eye exam. Your doctor will likely identify any changes to the retina or macula, including the appearance of deposits and changes in pigmentation. Through a series of procedures, your eye doctor will also look for the presence of abnormal blood vessels under the retina. The presence of these anomalies can justify a diagnosis of macular degeneration.
Treatment and prevention options
There is no cure for macular degeneration, and vision loss cannot be restored by treatment. Lifestyle changes, vitamins, and surgery may be possible treatment options, depending on the severity of the condition.
Certain lifestyle changes, such as eating a nutritious diet rich in leafy green vegetables and oily fish, quitting smoking, and exercising more, can prevent macular degeneration and help slow the development of macular degeneration. disease progression.
Certain vitamin supplements, including vitamins C and E, zinc and copper, can slow the progression of the disease in people with intermediate or advanced macular degeneration.
There are other wet macular degeneration treatment options, such as injections and surgery or laser therapy. Although these treatments do not cure the disease, they can prevent further vision loss by stopping abnormal blood vessels from leaking.
Not all treatment options are safe for everyone, but low vision rehabilitation can benefit many. Macular degeneration doesn’t usually cause total blindness, but it can impair your ability to drive and read.