Shield Your Eyes From Macular Degeneration

June 15, 2015

Macular degeneration occurs when part of the retina deteriorates. It is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness among older Americans. For this reason, it is also called age-related macular degeneration, or AMD.

There are two types of AMD: dry (non-neovascular) and wet (neovascular). The dry version will sometimes progress to the more serious wet condition. Neovascular refers to a condition where new blood vessels grow in a place they aren't supposed to be.

It's All About the Macula

Both types of AMD affect the macula, a yellow oval disc that lies near the center of the retina. The macula's yellow color comes from a pigment essential to protect and maintain vision and filters out blue light, the most damaging in the visual spectrum. As we age, this pigmentation starts to fray and the macula begins losing its protective power. Vision loss is slow and painless, but it becomes clear to patients when everyday tasks like reading and driving become more difficult.

With dry AMD, the tissues surrounding the macula begin to wear out as the pigmentation deteriorates, sometimes leaving small deposits on the macula. Patients may see blind spots in their central vision.

About ten percent of dry cases progress to wet, where new blood vessels start to grow under the retina in an attempt to create a new network to carry more nutrients and oxygen there. This backfires, though, because the new vessels leak blood and fluid, causing even more damage.

Get Your Eyes Checked Every Year to Catch AMD Early

Ophthalmologist can often detect early signs of AMD through a dilated eye exam before a patient notices any symptoms. This is why it's important to have your eyes checked regularly; some people are diagnosed in their 50s, even though the damage begins sooner.

Researchers think that sometimes the condition may be hereditary, so find out if anyone in your family has had AMD. Caucasian females seem to have higher risk. Other risks include:

  • Light eye color, particularly blue eyes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

AMD Prevention and Treatment

There are no cures for AMD, but researchers have recently identified new treatments for intermediate and late stages through two Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS). These studies find that getting more amounts of certain nutrients can slow the condition in the intermediate and later stages and possibly give some protection to people at risk for it.

Lutein, and zeaxanthin (pronounced zee-uh-za'n-thin) are found in carotenoids and make up most of the macula's pigmentation. Consuming them, along with Zinc and certain antioxidants, might slow AMD. They are in commercially available "eye vitamins" and certain foods like cooked kale, collard greens, green beans, and broccoli. Raw or cooked spinach, raw romaine lettuce, eggs, and oranges are thought to help as well.

If you don't already do so, take steps to prevent eye damage. Wear hats and sunglasses and if you smoke, quit. Smoking can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, dry eye syndrome, and diabetes, which also can damage the retina.

Advanced or wet AMD can sometimes be slowed with treatment, though not cured. Patients can be injected with drugs that slow blood vessel growth. Another treatment is photodynamic therapy, which infuses the patient with a drug called verteporfin that travels to the unwanted blood vessels. The drug is activated with a laser to slow the growth of the blood vessels. Thermal Laser surgery can also treat some kinds of wet AMD.

With early detection, the rate of vision loss can be slowed. The keys are to understand your condition, monitor your symptoms and visit your ophthalmologist regularly. Even with macular degeneration, you can still enjoy an active lifestyle.

Jillynn Stevens is a writer and researcher. She is the Director of Digital Content Marketing for Be Locally SEO where she enjoys helping clients expand and improve their businesses through articles, blogs, website content and more. For Salt Lake City, Utah and nearby residents, Salt Lake Eye Associates is an excellent choice for all your eye health needs.
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