Macular Degeneration - Causes and Treatment
There are many diseases of the eye that occur naturally with time. Prime examples of age related eye diseases include glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration. Of these, for many macular degeneration is the most devastating, as it often results in permanent vision loss. Fortunately researchers are continuing to explore macular degeneration, including its causes and treatment options. For those diagnosed with macular degeneration, there are new treatments that are offering patients some hope of vision correction or at least slowing the progression of the disease.
If you or someone you know is at risk for macular degeneration, or was recently diagnosed with macular degeneration, it is important you educate yourself about the causes, treatment and prognosis for patients with this and related eye diseases.
Below you'll find comprehensive information about macular degeneration including information about the signs and symptoms and the importance of early detection for prevention and treatment of many eye related diseases.
Age Related Macular Degeneration
Age related macular degeneration or MD is considered one of the leading causes of blindness today. This condition often results from chronic eye disease that affects the tissue in the macula or the part of the eye responsible for our central vision. Typically age related MD results in blurred central vision. Some patients may experience a blind spot within their center of vision, leaving their peripheral vision intact in many cases.
Signs and Symptoms
Early warning signs of macular degeneration include having difficulty seeing without increased light. Some people find they have difficulty reading small print or notice that when viewing grids or other closely spaced lines their vision seems distorted. Others may notice blank spots or problems in their central field of vision.
Typically macular degeneration occurs over time, though some patients may find the course of the disease progresses rapidly leading to extensive vision loss in the eye.
Macular degeneration causes partial blindness as it effects a patient's central vision. This is just as detrimental however, for many patients as full blindness. Our central vision enables us to read, drive, recognize friends and family and perform any detailed work. While some patients may realize a reversal or partial reversal of symptoms with prompt treatment, others may not.
Age related macular degeneration tends to worsen with age. Roughly 2 million Americans are diagnosed with the advanced form of this disease annually.
Causes of Macular Degeneration
The macula is the part of the retina which is necessary for sharp central vision. Typically this part of the eye includes many light sensitive or light detecting cells that enable proper vision. These cells or cones allow people to differentiate between various shades of color and gray. Usually a layer of tissue forms the outer surface of the retina. This tissue is referred to as the Retinal pigment epithelium or RPE.
Patients with macular degeneration usually experience deterioration of the RPE. This results in slow pigment loss and thinning or atrophy of the cells within this tissue. This over time causes waste deposits to form on the tissue, damaging the sensitive light detecting cells of the macula. This prevents the brain from sending signals to the optic nerves, hence your ability to see well decreases over time.
Risk Factors For Macular Degeneration
The primary risk factor for this condition is age. Macular degeneration is much more common in patients over age 60. Other causes or risk factors may include:
- Family history or genetic predisposition to the disease. If someone in your family is diagnosed with age related macular degeneration you are more at risk for developing the condition as you age.
- Race and sex. Macular degeneration is more prevalent in Caucasians, and more common among women than men, in part because women tend to have longer life expectancy. Thus, as they age, their risk for developing the condition increases.
- Having light colored eyes. People with lighter colored eyes are more at risk than those with dark colored eyes.
- Over exposure to UV radiation, which can damage the retina and surrounding tissue.
- Inadequate or poor nutrition, which can lower blood levels of certain key minerals and vitamins including zinc, vitamins A, C and E, all of which are important for preventing the effects of aging and development of age related diseases.
- Cigarette use, which can increase your risk of tissue damage and increase your susceptibility to macular degeneration and a host of other health conditions.
One of the best ways to help treat macular degeneration includes early diagnosis. You should plan to visit your eye care professionally bi-annually to help diagnose early macular degeneration. Certain treatments may help stop further progression of the disease.
Treatment may include drug therapies, laser procedures or supplementation with high dose vitamin and minerals. Getting the right treatment as soon as possible can help you to retain the sight that you have and possibly even regain some of what you lost.
Be sure to consult with your eye care professional for additional information about this and other serious diseases of the eye and retina. Your doctor can work with you to develop a personalized treatment program and ensure your best odds of recovery.
Wet Macular Degeneration
This occurs when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the macula/retina. These newly created blood vessels often are very fragile and often do leak blood and fluid. The blood and fluid raise the macula from its normal place at the back of the eye. Damage to the macula occurs rapidly.
Dry Macular Degeneration
Dry macular degeneration occurs when the light-sensitive cells in the macula break down slowly, gradually blurring central vision in the affected eye. As dry AMD gets worse, you may see a blurred spot in the center of your vision. As time passes, and less of the macula functions, central vision in the affected eye can be lost gradually.
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