For most people, the ability see is essential to their daily life and losing part or all of their vision is challenging at best, and utterly devastating at worst. One of the most common causes for vision loss, especially in older men and women, is called macular degeneration. While it may sound terrifying, this condition can be treated. Read on to find out what macular degeneration is, how it can be treated, and other useful information.
Defining Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is, as its name suggests, a degenerative eye disease that can eventually cause full loss of vision in the center of your eye. It is most commonly related to age, and is divided into two classifications: wet and dry.
The dry version of this condition is the most common and usually the least severe. The macula, the center of the retina, begins to accumulate yellow deposits of a material called drusen. These, when few in number, don’t generally affect vision but when they start to accumulate in large numbers, they can dim or distort vision to the point where it is no longer possible to see. This accumulation of drusen also causes the light sensitive layers of the macula to atrophy and eventually die from lack of use, causing blind spots.
Wet macular degeneration is more severe and harder to treat version of the condition. Instead of accumulating dry deposits, this type of degeneration is caused by excessive blood vessel growth underneath the macula. These vessels begin to leak directly into the retina, making it harder to see. Once these blood vessels die or become scar tissue, they can permanently damage or destroy your vision in the center of your eye.
The symptoms of macular degeneration
While symptoms will vary from person to person, most people who suffer from the condition report symptoms such as:
- Decreased light sensitivity: You require more light for everyday tasks and don’t adjust well to low-light environments.
- Decreased color sensitivity: Colors that you know should be bright suddenly start to appear very dull or dim.
- Blurriness: Increased difficulty reading printed words, as well as a blurry or blind spot in the center of your vision.
- Recognition Difficulty: It may become harder for you to recognize faces, especially the faces of people you don’t see often.Crooked vision: Some patients reported that the center of their field of vision appeared crooked.
- Hallucinations: Advanced cases of macular degeneration are often accompanied by geometric hallucinations.
Who is at risk for developing this condition?
The most common risk factor for this condition is age. It usually doesn’t manifest until age 50 or so, and is most common in patients who have passed the age of 65. It is also a lot more common if someone in your family has had macular degeneration in the past.
Smoking, obesity, and a poor diet are also risk factors or this disease.
How is macular degeneration diagnosed?
Diagnosis for both forms of macular degeneration usually requires nothing more than a trip to your eye doctor. These tests are used for both versions (wet and dry) of the disease.
- Visual acuity/vision defects test: The doctor will test your ability to read a chart from across the room for visual acuity. To test for defects in your vision, he or she will use a tool known as an Amsler Grid which is designed to test for faults in your central vision.
- Eye dilation and examination: Most people are familiar with this part of the eye exam. Eye drops are used to dilate the pupils so the doctor can examine the back of the eye. With dry degeneration, he or she will be looking for yellow deposits, while with the wet version of the disorder; they will be looking for fluid or blood in the back of the eye.
- Fluorescein Angiogram: This test requires the injection of a dye into the vein in your arm. This travels up into the eye, highlighting the blood vessels and allowing the doctor to look for abnormalities.
- Optical Coherence Tomography: This test uses an imaging system to display a cross section of the retina in real time, enabling the doctor to identify problem areas.
All of these treatments should, of course, be discussed with your doctor.
Common Macular Degeneration Treatments
This is where the two types of degeneration divide, because the treatment for each is different.
Dry macular degeneration is most often treated with an increased regimen of vitamins and minerals designed to help slow to the progression of the disease. This formula, as developed by the National Eye Institute, usually includes high doses of Vitamins C and E, Vitamin A (or beta carotene), zinc oxide, and copper. This treatment is usually only effective for patients with intermediate state degeneration.
The other treatment option is the surgical implantation of a telescopic lens in the affected eye. This small plastic tube can be used to improve distance and close vision.
Wet macular degeneration has three possible treatment options. The first is a series of injections, directly into the effected eye, with medications designed to stop the growth of new blood vessels.
The second treatment option is known as photo dynamic therapy, in which a light activated medication is injected into a vein in the arm. Once it travels to the eye, the doctor can activate the medication with an intense light or laser, causing the leaking blood vessels to close.
Finally, your doctor may choose to destroy the blood vessels behind the macula entirely, using a high powered laser. This is usually a last resort, and is not often used because of the risks and restrictions that this type of procedure entails.
Things to consider
A diagnosis of macular degeneration, no matter which type does not condemn you to a life of white canes and Seeing Eye dogs. Talk to your doctor about your treatments options today and find out what steps you can take to improve your visual acuity and overall quality of life.