Age-related vision problems are not uncommon, and in most cases, vision changes are nothing to be concerned about. In some cases, however, changes in your vision may be a sign of a more serious eye condition.
Macular degeneration is one such eye condition that primarily affects adults over age 60. It is also the leading cause of vision loss in this age group.
What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration is an eye disease that affects the macula, which is the central part of the retina and the part of the eye responsible for sharp central vision. Degeneration of the macula can result in blurred vision or loss in central vision, and can affect ability to read, drive and see clearly. Total blindness rarely occurs with macular degeneration, as side vision is unaffected, but the ability to see straight ahead can be lost.
There are two types of age-related macular degeneration: dry macular degeneration and wet macular degeneration.
Dry macular degeneration is the more common of the two types, and is characterized by the presence of yellow deposits, called drusen, in the macula. Drusen are thought to be debris from the deteriorating macular tissue. As drusen grow in size and number, they can cause dimming or distortion of vision, most noticeably when reading. As the condition progresses, atrophy or tissue death may occur in the light-sensitive layer of cells in the macula, causing some patients to experience blind spots in the center of their vision. In more advanced stages of the disease, central vision may be lost altogether.
Wet macular degeneration accounts for only about 10 percent of cases, but it accounts for the majority of cases of serious vision loss from macular degeneration. Wet macular degeneration is characterized by the growth of abnormal blood vessels underneath the macula. These abnormal blood vessels can leak blood and fluid into the retina, causing distortion of vision. They may also lead to scarring, which can result in permanent loss of central vision.
What Are the Symptoms of Macular Degeneration?
Symptoms of macular degeneration may include:
- Dark, blurry areas in the center of vision
- Diminished or changed color perception
- Straight lines appearing wavy
Who is at Risk of Developing Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration can be a hereditary disease, passed from parents to their children. If someone in your family has or had the condition, you may be at higher risk of developing macular degeneration. Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and fair skin are also risk factors for the disease. Women are more likely than men to develop macular degeneration. Talk to your eye doctor about your individual risk.
Is There Treatment for Macular Degeneration?
If you have been diagnosed with either form of macular degeneration, it is very important that you closely monitor your eyesight and to return to your eye doctor as directed. Along with regular follow-ups, your doctor may suggest you begin to improve your diet by adding lots of green, leafy vegetables and perhaps introducing vitamins and supplements that are especially formulated for patients with AMD.
Treatment for wet macular degeneration may include the prescription of therapy or medication such as Avastin to block the development of new blood vessels and prevent leaking from existing abnormal blood vessels in the eye. This treatment has been revolutionary in the treatment of AMD and many patients have actually regained vision that was lost.
Laser therapy or submacular surgery may be performed to remove abnormal blood vessels underneath the macula. It is important to note that results will vary and this treatment will likely need be repeated on a regular basis.
Early and timely treatment is critical in preventing vision loss. If you are over age 60 and have not had a routine comprehensive eye exam in the last year, contact Key-Whitman and schedule your comprehensive eye exam today.