Macular degeneration is when the part of the retina at the back of the eye called the macular undergoes changes. These changes can cause the appearance of sight problems, with central vision loss being the most common.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs most often due to the passage of time. It most commonly develops in people over the age of 65, although there are cases where individuals in their forties or fifties will also experience a degradation of the macular. It can affect one eye, both eyes, or one then the other.
Macular Degeneration Risk Factors
However, age is only one of the factors that can influence the presence of AMD. Even though the exact cause of the condition has not been identified, there are a series of other elements that may increase the risk. These include:
- Gender – Statistics show that more women develop AMD compared to men. It has been posited that this may be due to the fact that women tend to live longer than men and therefore have longer time in which to develop macular degeneration.
- Genetics – It has been found that families with multiple cases of AMD can pass the condition down to later generations, although this does not always happen.
- Lifestyle – A lack of exercise and high blood pressure can put the body at risk of macular degeneration, so living a healthy lifestyle is recommended to minimise danger. This includes ensuring that a healthy diet is maintained as deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals are thought to contribute to the development of AMD.
- Smoking – This activity will generally increase risk of age-related macular degeneration.
- Sunlight – There have been studies that suggest prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light can increase the chance of developing macular degeneration. Although there is not conclusive evidence to back this up, the benefits of shielding eyes from UV light have been proven.
There are 2 main types of age-related macular degeneration: wet and dry.
Dry AMD occurs as the macula begins to thin due to retinal cell death and drusen, small nodes of protein, start to form. This develops slowly over time and the individual will gradually experience diminished central vision. Dry AMD will only ever affect central vision, leaving peripheral vision intact. This means that those with this condition will never suffer complete vision loss from dry AMD.
Wet AMD, on the other hand, is regarded as the more serious of the two. It occurs when blood vessels grow into the macula, begin to leak fluid or bleed, and cause scarring. Wet AMD can happen quickly and cause visual problems to suddenly appear. Like dry AMD, complete sight loss is not possible from just wet AMD.
It is important to note that “wet” and “dry” do not refer to the hydration levels of the eyes. Instead they are used to describe what an optometrist sees when examining the macula.
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
Every individual’s condition will progress differently and which symptoms develop will vary from one to the other. Here are some of the most common symptoms for those with age-related macular degeneration.
- Dark spots or gaps in the centre.
- Fading colours.
- Light sensitivity.
- Straight lines may appear distorted.
- Harder to make out details.
Treatments and Cures for Macular Degeneration
The sad news is that there is currently no treatment method for dry AMD. There has been some studies that show increased intake of certain vitamins may be able to slow down the progression of dry AMD, however no way to completely prevent the condition has been found.
There is better news for those with wet AMD. Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) drugs can be injected into the eye to inhibit the formation of new blood vessels. Normally, a course of three injections is given over the period of three months, after which it is advised to have regular check ups to verify whether more will be needed.
Although there is a high success rate for anti-VEGF treatment, there is a small possibility that the increased pressure in the eye resulting from the injection can cause retinal detachment. Infections can also occur but similarly the chance is very small.
However, it must be noted that anti-VEGF injections can only stop the growth of new blood vessels. They will not be able to reverse any damage done by blood vessels that have already caused damage to the macula.