The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina and is made up of millions of light-sensing cells that provide sharp, central vision.
Macular degeneration (also called AMD for age-related macular degeneration) is a common chronic eye disease and a leading cause of vision loss among people over the age of 50. When the macula deteriorates, the center field of vision may appear blurry, distorted, or dark. Those affected by AMD may find daily tasks such as reading and driving increasingly difficult.
There are two forms of macular degeneration: dry (non-neovascular) and wet (neovascular).
Dry macular degeneration accounts for about 90% of all macular degeneration. In this type of macular degeneration, small, yellowish deposits of metabolic waste products called drusen build up under the retina. As these deposits enlarge, vision may become blurry and distorted. However, most vision changes at this stage are usually mild.
Wet macular degeneration is the more advanced stage of the disease. At this stage, new blood vessels (neovascularization) begin to grow underneath the retina. These new blood vessels are fine, delicate vessels that are prone to leak and bleed. The leakage from these blood vessels can cause swelling along with permanent damage and scarring of the retina. This results in blind spots and reduction or loss of central vision.
AMD does not have many symptoms in the early stages of the disease, so it is important to have your eyes examined regularly. As AMD progresses, the following are common symptoms:
- A blurred area near the center of vision may form.
- The blurred area may grow larger and blind spots develop in the central field of vision.
- Objects may not appear as bright as they did in the past.
There is currently no cure for macular degeneration, but there are treatments that may delay its progression and possibly improve vision.
The most recent advances involve painless injections of medication directly into the eye. These new drugs cause the new blood vessels to regress without damaging the surrounding retina.
If wet macular degeneration develops, treatments may be instituted to target these abnormal blood vessels.
While there is no cure for macular degeneration, early detection is crucial to preserving vision. Dilated eye examinations help your eye doctor detect and monitor for any development of macular degeneration. Your doctor may ask you to check your vision at home with an Amsler grid – a small chart of thin, black lines arranged in a grid pattern. Macular degeneration causes these lines to appear distorted, wavy or missing. If you notice any changes make an appointment to see your eye doctor right away.
- Diet appears to play an important role in the prevention of macular degeneration. Diets high in antioxidants such as Vitamin A and E along with zinc and copper may slow down any changes. In addition, supplementing your diet with leutein, xeazanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids may also be beneficial.
- Large studies have shown significant benefit of certain vitamin combinations. These are available over the counter and are designated AREDS2 (Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2) formulations on the label.
- Stop smoking! Smoking has shown to be strongly associated with the progression of macular degeneration. In addition, smokers should avoid Vitamin A supplementation and instead use the AREDS2 formulation, as Vitamin A (beta carotene) was linked to increased lung cancer in smokers or former smokers.