What You Need to Know about Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is a major cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years of age and older. More than 11 million seniors in the United States have some form of the condition, and that number is expected to double by 2050.
The macula is a small part of your retina that controls your central vision, as well as your perception of colors and fine detail. It can be damaged in two ways. In wet macular degeneration, fluid leaks from abnormal blood vessels. In the dry version, light-sensitive cells break down.
In both cases, macular degeneration usually doesn’t cause total blindness. However, it can reduce your vision to the point where many activities, like reading and driving, become difficult or impossible.
Protect your eyesight as you grow older. Learn more about macular degeneration and how it could affect you or someone you love.
Preventing Macular Degeneration
There isn’t much you can do about aging and genetics, which are two of the main causes of macular degeneration. However, there are other factors that you can control.
Try these strategies:
Quit smoking. Numerous studies have found that smoking more than doubles your risk for having macular degeneration. Giving up cigarettes can also help protect you from cataracts, glaucoma, and eye conditions related to diabetes.
Change your diet. Some foods support healthy retinas, while others have the opposite effect. Eat more leafy greens, like spinach and kale, along with other foods rich in antioxidants. Reduce your consumption of red meat and saturated fats.
Lower your blood pressure. Hypertension can interfere with the flow of oxygen to your eyes. To complicate matters, some blood pressure drugs may compound these effects. Talk with your doctor about your prescriptions and natural ways to lower your blood pressure, such as losing weight, limiting salt, and exercising regularly.
Wear sunglasses. Shield your eyes from excessive UV exposure. Look for styles with UVA and UVB protection. Use them year-round, instead of just for summer.
Living with Macular Degeneration
There is no current medical treatment for dry macular degeneration, the most common form of the condition responsible for more than 70% of cases. However, early detection and intervention can help to slow down further damage.
These activities can help:
Recognize common symptoms. Tell your doctor immediately if you experience dark areas in the center of your vision, or if straight lines appear to be wavy. Keep in mind that regular eye exams are still important because you may not have any noticeable signs.
Get diagnosed. Your doctor will ask about your medical history and examine your eyes. They may give you several tests, including dilating your pupils and injecting a special dye into your body that will allow your doctor to evaluate the blood vessels in your retinas.
Take medication. The wet form of macular degeneration is more sudden and severe. It’s usually treated with painless injections of medications called anti-VEGF agents, which stands for vascular endothelial growth factor. They can slow or stop the damage for many patients.
Try supplements. Your doctor may also recommend a special blend of vitamin and mineral supplements known as AREDS. In some cases, they can help prevent dry macular degeneration from progressing into the wet form.
Find a vision specialist. Low-vision therapy can be very helpful for dealing with the challenges of daily life. Ask your GP for a referral or contact the eye department at your local hospital. They’ll help you learn about coping strategies and devices.
Take care of your aging eyes. Adopt a healthy lifestyle and talk with your doctor if you notice early symptoms of macular degeneration or other changes in your vision.