What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration (MD) is the name given to a group of degenerative diseases of the retina that cause progressive, painless loss of central vision, affecting the ability to see fine detail, drive, read and recognise faces. It is the leading cause of vision loss amongst people over the age of 50. In some the condition advances slowly so that vision loss does not occur for a long time. In others the disease progresses faster and can lead to a loss of vision in one or both eyes. Macular degeneration by itself does not lead to complete blindness but the loss of central vision can interfere with everyday activities.
There are two forms of macular degeneration – dry and wet.
Who is at risk?
Age is a risk factor but it is a multifactorial disease – it has many causes.
Family history – the genes you inherit from your parents
Smoking – smoking quadruples the risk.
Other factors – include high fat intake, obesity, alcohol, sedentary lifestyle and sun exposure.
How can it be managed?
Although there is no cure for MD, there are treatment options that can slow down its progression, depending on the stage and type of the disease (wet, dry, and other forms). The earlier wet disease is detected, the more vision you are likely to retain.
Researchers have also found links with some lifestyle choices. You might be able to reduce your risk by making healthy choices
– avoiding smoking
– exercising regularly
– maintaining normal blood pressure
– eating a healthy diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and fish
Early Macular degeneration
In early stages people show no symptoms of loss of vision but an annual eye test with either an optometrist or ophthalmologist is recommended to determine if the condition is advancing. Making healthy choices may also preserve your vision longer.
Intermediate and late macular degeneration
Researchers at the National Eye Institute tested whether taking nutritional supplements could protect against AMD in the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2). They found that daily intake of certain high-dose vitamins and minerals can slow progression of the disease in people who have intermediate AMD, and those who have late AMD in one eye.
Wet macular degeneration
Wet macular degeneration causes sudden loss of vision and often associated with distortion – straight edges become wobbly. An amsler chart may be useful to pick up early distortion. The test involves looking at the spot in the centre with one eye covered (wearing reading glasses) to see if there are any areas distorted or missing.
Injection therapy can be used to stop further vision loss, this therapy is not a cure. The two drugs commonly used are Lucentis and Eylea. Both have a good chance of stabilising vision. To optimise visual outcome the key is early and adequate treatment.
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