Eye Conditions: Macular Degeneration

Simulated view with age-related macular degeneration.

Age related macular degeneration is a condition of the macula, known as the central retina. It is the leading cause of vision loss in those 50 years and older living in the United States. It's prevalence is known to increase with age. Macular degeneration is caused when the arteries that nourish the retina begin to harden. The hardening deprives the retinal tissue of needed oxygen and nutrients, resulting in central vision deterioration. The condition can widely vary in severity and in the worst cases can cause a total loss of central vision which makes reading, and driving among other activities impossible. In less severe cases, macular degeneration may only cause slight distortions in vision. Macular degeneration does not affect peripheral vision and therefore does not cause total blindness. Macular degeneration can be caused by any number of factors including age, genetics, sunlight exposure, smoking and nutrition.

Difference between wet and dry macular degeneration?

Age related macular degeneration is classified as either neovascular (wet) or non-neovascular (dry). Only about 10% of patients suffering from macular degeneration have the wet type. Neovascular or wet macular degeneration occurs when new vessels form in the eye to improve blood flow to oxygen deprived retinal tissue. The new vessels break easily and are very delicate which causes bleeding and damage to the surrounding tissues.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Loss of central vision, which can be gradual or sudden.
  • Difficulty performing tasks requiring the ability to see detail including reading
  • Distorted vision

Eye doctors generally diagnose age related macular degeneration. Ophthalmoscopy, vision testing, the Amsler grid test, fluorescein angiography, and fundus photography are some of the more common tests performed during a retinal exam. Unfortunately there is no proven medical treatment for dry macular degeneration. Laser photocoagulation can be used in selected cases of wet macular degeneration and is effective at sealing bleeding or leaking vessels, however it does not restore lost vision. Photodynamic therapy is another treatment that has recently proven effective in stopping abnormal growth of blood vessels in patients with wet macular degeneration. This therapy is much less damaging than laser photocoagulation and is the preferred treatment in many cases. To have wet macular degeneration successfully treated, it is critical to have an early diagnosis.

Several studies have been done indicating a strong link between nutrition and the development of macular degeneration. It has been scientifically proven that people with diets rich in fruits and vegetables have a lower occurrence of macular degeneration. Further studies are needed to determine if some type of nutritional supplements can prevent progression of macular degeneration in people already suffering from the disease.

Tips for macular degeneration patients:

  • Monitor your vision daily using an Amsler grid, by doing this changes that require treatment can be detected early.
  • Take a multi-vitamin containing zinc, it is believed that people with age related macular degeneration may be deficient in zinc.
  • Try to incorporate some dark, leafy greens into your diet such as collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, and kale.
  • Always be sure to protect your eyes with sunglasses that have proper UV protection.
  • Quit smoking, it can decrease the efficiency of the retinal blood cells.
  • Exercise regularly to improve overall health.
  • Use a halogen light, they have less glare and are able to disperse light better than regular bulbs.
  • Shine a light directly on your reading material, it will improve contrast and make the print easier to see.
  • Use a hand held magnifier to increase print size.
  • Consult a low vision specialist, they are specially trained to help visually impaired people improve their quality of life and are able to recommend many resources.

Macular Degeneration Resources

  • Facts about ARMD – Some information and facts from the National Eye Institute on age related macular degeneration.
  • Macular Degeneration – An overview of the disease from the National Library of Medicine.
  • Dry Macular Degeneration – Information including symptoms, causes, risk factors, complications, and possible treatments.

Search Local Eye Surgeons