What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration is an eye disease that damages the macula, the central part of the retina which is responsible for central vision. When damaged the macula makes it difficult to see detail, such as small print or small objects.
Macular degeneration leaves only the peripheral vision unaffected having potential serious impact on your ability to live independently. Faces may become blurred, and you may have trouble performing normal daily tasks.
When Should I see an Eye Doctor for my Macular Degeneration?
Declining vision noticed by the patient or by an eye doctor during a routine eye exam may be the first indicator of macular degeneration. The formation of new blood vessels and exudates, or “drusen,” from blood vessels in and under the macular is often the first physical sign that macular degeneration may develop. Also the following signs may be indicative of macular problems. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should consult an ophthalmologist immediately:
- Straight lines appear distorted causing center of vision to appear more distorted than the rest of the scene.
- A dark, blurry area or “white-out” appears in the center of vision.
- Color perception changes or diminishes.
How is Macular Degeneration Diagnosed?
There are two different types of the disease:
What is Dry Macular Degeneration?
A healthy retina and macula help us process visual information by forming a clear, accurate picture of our surroundings. Although peripheral vision remains unaffected dry macular degeneration causes images in your central field of vision to become blurred and distorted. Blind spots may develop leading to a total loss of central vision.
The exact cause of dry macular degeneration is not known, but it is an age-related condition. A family history of macular degeneration, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and lifestyle factors like smoking and obesity can increase your risk of developing the condition.
Dry macular degeneration is the most common type, and it affects about 90% of sufferers. As the dry form progresses, the macular tissue begins to break down.
Dry macular degeneration involves the thinning or deterioration of the macula, the centermost part of the retina. It is also characterized by the presence of drusen in the macula which are yellow deposits made up of fatty proteins. Drusen normally develops as the eyes age and as they grow in size or number, they can compromise vision.
What is Wet Macular Degeneration?
The wet form of macular degeneration is less common but carries a greater risk of vision loss. Wet macular degeneration can develop independently, or as an advanced case of dry macular degeneration and is characterized by the formation of abnormal blood vessels underneath the macula. These blood vessels are typically weak and fragile, and prone to breaking. In the event of a hemorrhage, blood and fluid can leak into the retina vision can become distorted, making straight lines appear wavy. Blind spots can also develop, and a loss of central vision can occur. Eventually, these blood vessels can lead to scarring which can result in more serious, permanent loss of vision.
In cases of wet macular degeneration, sufficient oxygen is not delivered to the macula. As a result, new abnormal blood vessels develop. These new vessels are fragile and weak, and prone to breaking. When they leak or bleed, the macula can become scarred, leading to rapid central vision loss.
What are the Different Treatment Options for Macular Degeneration?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for macular degeneration however the good news is that there are options for managing the disease. This can potentially slow its progression if you have been diagnosed. These options include lifestyle changes, optical aids, and professional treatments.
What are the Treatments for Wet Macular Degeneration?
When it comes to addressing advanced forms of wet macular degeneration, a more involved approach may be necessary to be effective in slowing its progression such as:
- Anti-VEGF Drugs: Administered through a tiny needle this treatment helps reduce the number of abnormal blood vessels and slows leaking.
- Laser Therapy: Laser therapy involves aiming a high-energy laser beam at the abnormal blood vessels beneath the retina. The laser helps to seal the vessels and prevent them from growing.
- Photodynamic Therapy: Photodynamic therapy (PDT) involves a light-activated drug and a low power laser. After the drug travels to the abnormal blood vessels, doctors use the laser to activate the drug and damage the vessels. You may need multiple sessions for optimal results.
What are the Treatments for Dry Macular Degeneration?
If you suffer from dry macular degeneration antioxidant-rich supplements may be particularly beneficial in slowing vision loss. A nutritious diet including fruits and vegetables is an easy way to increase your intake of antioxidants. Increasing your consumption of healthy unsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil, whole grains, and omega-3-rich fish like salmon and tuna, are also nutritional measures your doctor recommends.
What to Expect After your Diagnosis of Macular Degeneration?
Both types of macular degeneration can result in irreversible loss of vision. If you receive a diagnosis of macular degeneration, it is important that you undergo annual exams with your doctor. Our doctors use advanced tools to check the health of the retina and macula. During these examinations, your eyes will be dilated so your doctor can check whether your condition is advancing. It is important to see a doctor regularly especially if you have a family history of macular degeneration even if you are not experiencing symptoms. Close monitoring with an experienced healthcare professional can help you determine if and when treatment is needed.