Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration due to its prevalence amongst older-patients or AMD for short, is a painless condition that causes the gradual loss of our central vision. Although total blindness is rare, patients who experience it can find that it makes many of their day to day activities much more difficult than they would usually be. This includes reading, watching television, driving and even recognizing the people that they usually interact with.
Macular degeneration occurs for one of two reasons. In most instances, the area of cells called the macula, which is located within the retina at the back of the eye naturally deteriorates with age. Symptoms are very gradual and subtle, and the condition is normally detected at routine eye exams. In rare cases, macular degeneration can occur because abnormal blood vessels have grown into the macula and have leaked blood and fluid which has damaged it. The symptoms of this type of macular degeneration occur much more quickly.
In nearly all cases, macular degeneration is picked up and diagnosed during a routine eye exam which checks for eye diseases as well as assessing how clearly you can see. A dilated eye exam is carried out which enables your eye doctor to look into your eye’s internal structure and assess the various elements, including the macula, for any signs of damage or deterioration. Eye drops are used to dilate your eyes so that this can happen.
Alternatively, you may be given ophthalmoscopy. This is where a special instrument is used to examine the inside of your eye so that your eye doctor can detect any abnormalities, including those which might be indicative of macular degeneration.
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for macular degeneration, but there are things that can be done to prevent it and slow its progression.
Whilst you cannot reverse the natural aging process, fortunately, there are things that can be done that are believed to prevent or slow the progression of macular degeneration. Experts agree that the sooner patients take some or all of these steps, the greater the likelihood that they will be able to keep macular degeneration at bay.
Smoking has been found to significantly increase someone’s chances of developing AMD. The reason for this is that the retina requires a high rate of oxygen to work properly and remain healthy, and anything that affects the amount of oxygen that reaches the eyes could potentially affect our vision. Smoking has been proven to limit the amount of oxygen in the blood, and this oxidative damage could contribute towards both the development and progression of age-related macular degeneration.
Getting the right balance of nutrition is not only important for the health of your body, but it is also essential for the health and wellbeing of your eyes. People with poor diets that are high in fat and cholesterol and low in antioxidants and leafy green vegetables have been shown to be more likely to experience macular degeneration. This is thought to be a result of the effect that a poor diet has on blood sugar levels, causing them to raise and putting your eye health at risk. Make sure your diet includes plenty of dark, leafy green vegetables and oily fish to boost the health of your eyes. You may also want to consider taking a multivitamin, but if you aren’t sure, speak to your eye doctor.
Obesity is a leading cause of many different health problems including high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which have been shown to contribute towards issues with eye health such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. In fact, studies have found that a person with a body mass index of greater than 30 is up to 2.5 times more likely to develop AMD than someone within the healthy weight range. As such, maintaining your weight could be key to preventing the condition from occurring.
Sunglasses aren’t only a fashion statement, they are also a valuable safety tool, protecting our eyes against the damaging effects of UV light from the sun. UV light is present all the time when we are outdoors, even on cloudy days. Some research suggests that UV damage could be a contributor to the development of macular degeneration so experts recommend that wearing sunglasses that are effective at blocking 100% UV rays could help to slow the condition.
Regular eye exams form an important part of your preventative care and as such, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that patients have a dilated eye exam at least every 2 years, or every year if you are over the age of 60. They can monitor your eyes for the development of any eye diseases including macular degeneration and ensure that you get the support you need if and when issues arise.
If you have any further questions about the diagnosis and preventative care options for macular degeneration, get in touch with our expert eye care team in West New York, NJ today.