What You Need to Know about Macular Degeneration

As much as we would all like to avoid it, getting older is a simple fact of life.  Sooner or later, many of the physical attributes that we may have come to take for granted over the years will gradually begin to falter and deteriorate.  One of the most common and troublesome of the complaints associated with getting older is a gradual loss of visual acuity, but at Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons board-certified ophthalmologist Dr. William Segal and consultative optometrist Dr. Marc Lay have treated thousands of patients for problems related to aging eyes.  Most commonly, trouble with eyesight in older patients can be attributed to presbyopia, a common age-related eye condition that causes difficulty seeing images at close range.  However, in some cases, the underlying issue is more serious.  In fact, the leading cause of irreversible severe central vision loss in Caucasians over the age of fifty in the United States is age-related macular degeneration, or AMD.  Although there is presently no cure, early detection and treatment can often prevent or minimize the extent of vision loss.  Here’s what you need to know about age-related macular degeneration to help reduce your risk.

What You Need to Know about Macular DegenerationWhat causes Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Over time, yellow deposits of fatty protein, called drusen, can build up on the macula, the central part of the retina with the greatest concentration of the most sensitive optical cells.  These deposits interfere with the functioning of the light-sensitive cells that line the back of the retina, causing a blurry distortion in the center of the visual field which may eventually worsen to become an increasingly large blind spot.

What are the different forms of Macular Degeneration?

In the more common, or “dry,” form of age-related macular degeneration, the drusen deposits grow very slowly.  Although they cannot be completely cured, their progression can be slowed by combining regular exercise with a healthy diet high in green, leafy vegetables and fish.  In about 10% of patients, however, AMD can develop into the faster-progressing “wet” form, where new abnormal and very fragile blood vessels grow under the macula and begin to leak fluid and blood.  Wet AMD is much more serious and causes most of the vision loss associated with the condition.

How can I tell if I have Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration most commonly occurs in men and women over the age of sixty, but may also occur much earlier.  Patients usually first notice a blurry spot in the center of their visual field.  They may find that more light is needed for tasks like reading and that straight lines appear wavy.  The blurry spot may gradually become larger and/or darker and straight ahead vision may become distorted or even disappear entirely.  Symptoms of AMD can progress quickly, which is one of the reasons why we recommend that all men and women undergo a complete comprehensive medical eye exam at least once between the ages of 20 and 29, at least twice between the ages of 30 and 39, and annually thereafter and that all patients get a baseline eye disease screening at age 40, the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to occur.

How can Age-Related Macular Degeneration be treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for age-related macular degeneration, but early detection and treatment can often slow its progression, minimizing the extent of vision loss.  According to studies conducted by the National Eye Institute (NEI), a person’s risk of developing AMD may be reduced by not smoking, maintaining a healthy diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in animal fat, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy body weight.  Advanced forms of laser surgery, photodynamic therapy, and a combination of special medications and vitamin treatments are typically used to treat rapidly progressing cases of wet AMD.

If you have any concerns about your vision, or any questions about how to best maintain the health of your eyes, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons to schedule an eye exam with Dr. William Segal or Dr. Marc Lay. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information on how to keep your vision clear and healthy.