Aging brings with it a variety of disorders, and macular degeneration is one such disease. It has been found to be the foremost cause of vision loss in the older American population, especially those over 80 years of age. Also termed as age-related macular degeneration, ARMD, or AMD, this disease is on the rise as the population of older citizens increases. Statistics have revealed that white Americans over 80 are most affected at 14%, compared to 2.1% of Americans over 50. Again, comparatively, whites were found to be more affected by macular degeneration compared to blacks, Hispanics, and other ethnic groups.
What is macular degeneration?
Deterioration of the macula, the central small area of the retina that defines visual acuity, causes macular degeneration. The ability to recognize faces, read, drive, work on a computer, watch television, or carry out tasks requiring detail visualization depends on the health of the macula.
Types of macular degeneration
There are two types of macular degeneration:
- dry or non-neovascular
- wet or neovascular
Dry macular degeneration
This form is more common and is caused mainly due to aging, when macular tissue starts thinning or pigment gets deposited in the macula. Sometimes, both of these underlying factors result in the disease.
This disease is diagnosed when yellow deposits called drusen are found accumulated around the macula. Vision loss or defects are very gradual and no characteristic symptoms are detected.
Due to the absence of an approved treatment, prevention is the way to manage this problem. Preventive measures include following a healthy diet, exercising, and wearing sunglasses to guard against harmful rays and radiations.
Wet or neovascular macular degeneration
This condition is a progression of dry macular degeneration and occurs when new blood vessels start to grow underneath the retina, thus leading to leakage of blood and fluid. The leakage permanently damages the retinal cells, which are sensitive to light, thus resulting in blind spots. Occult wet macular degeneration occurs when blood vessel growth is not pronounced and there is less severe leakage and vision loss. When the growth and scarring of blood vessels is evident, with delineated outlines clearly observed and severe vision loss, the condition is termed classic wet macular degeneration.
Symptoms and likely causes of AMD
Vision loss is slow, gradual, and painless, with symptoms such as fuzzy or distorted vision along with the detection of shadowy areas in central vision.
The condition is diagnosed via a retinal exam followed by an Amsler grid test. Further confirmation is carried out via a fluorescein angiography.
Age is the number one cause of macular degeneration, but other causes have also been found, including heredity, inactivity and obesity, hypertension or high blood pressure, smoking, and the side effects of drugs. Those with lighter eye color are also more susceptible.
Treatment and prevention
To date there is no FDA-approved treatment for macular degeneration, especially for dry AMD. The growth of blood vessels is stopped in wet AMD with medication such as Eylea, Lucentis, Visudyne, and Macugen, combined with photodynamic therapy.
Studies suggest that good nutrition and a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids can prevent macular degeneration.