What You Need To Know About Age-Related Macular Degeneration

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The loss of sight is perhaps one of the biggest fears experienced by humans. Thankfully, advances in modern medicine and surgical procedures can keep many people from realizing this fear. Here is a look at one of the most common causes of blindness.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

This condition is the main cause of blindness in senior citizens. Macular refers to the middle of the retina, which is called the macula. When the macula is compromised, it affects the part of vision that is most important to sight, the central or the "straight ahead" vision. This means activities like reading, driving, seeing faces, and the ability to see in focus or with detail become difficult.

What Are The Symptoms Of Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration comes on gradually. Many people don't notice it at first or just assume the increasing vision loss is a natural part of aging. Eyesight does worsen as one ages, but age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease, not just routine aging.

Usually, the first sign of the condition is noticing blurriness when trying to focus on something closeup or far away. Then, a person becomes unable to see very well if the light is even slightly dim, so they try to see in bright light. Eventually, they will notice little blank spots in their field of vision and increased blurriness that makes it difficult to recognize people or do tasks.

There can be weird distortions, too. Changes in depth perception can make things seem larger or smaller than they really are or appear further away or closer than reality. Another distortion is the vision becomes similar to the way the eyes see waves of heat coming up from the asphalt on really hot days—everything looks wavy or undulating instead of straight. A simple eye test called the Amsler Grid can be used periodically to check for any signs age-related macular degeneration.

Who Gets Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Smokers have quadruple the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration compared to non-smokers. A poor diet that leads to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity is another major contributing factor. There is a genetic component as well. A family history of the disease and light-colored eyes and skin increase the risk.

How Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration Cured?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease.  But ophthalmologists can slow the progression of the condition. With age-related macular degeneration, the eye begins forming new blood vessels in the eye, and these abnormal vessels can leak into the eye. There are drugs that can be injected into the eye that prevents their formation. Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Zinc, and in non-smokers, beta carotene, can also slow the disease progression. 

Previously, eye surgeons would move the macula out of the way and manually remove the abnormal blood vessels. With the advent of laser surgery, eye surgeons now have an even better tool at their disposal to slow age-related macular degeneration. A medication is injected intravenously, and then the eye is exposed to a laser beam. This activates the medication and it in turn destroys the blood vessels.