Macular degeneration is one of the main causes of vision loss in older adults. The macula is a tiny portion of the retina located at the back of the eye. It’s responsible for central vision and allows us to see fine details and colors. Its photoreceptor cells send signals to the brain that are translated into images.
Age-related macular degeneration occurs when the macula begins to wear down. There are two types of macular degeneration: dry and wet. In dry macular degeneration, proteins called drusen accumulate behind the macula and begin to break it down. Wet macular degeneration occurs when blood vessels grow under the macula, leaking blood into the retina. Most people experience the dry form, but the dry type can lead to the wet form. Macular degeneration leads to vision loss. There is no cure for the condition, although some treatments may slow its progression.
Macular degeneration does not typically cause symptoms when it’s in its early stages. As it progresses, patients experience vision loss, dark or blurry spots in the center of their vision, or difficulty driving and reading fine print. Occasionally, color perception is affected. A family history of macular degeneration is one of the leading risk factors for the condition. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a diet high in saturated fat, obesity, smoking, being a woman, and having a light eye color.
Macular degeneration must be diagnosed by an ophthalmologist. During an eye examination, the doctor uses a special instrument to look for telltale signs of drusen under the retina. Patients may be asked to look at an Amsler grid, which is a pattern of lines that look wavy to someone with macular degeneration. Further tests may be performed to confirm the diagnosis.
Treating macular degeneration
Although there is no cure, certain treatments may delay the progression of macular degeneration. While the disease is still in its dry form, supplements containing antioxidant vitamins can slow it down. The more advanced, wet macular degeneration, is addressed with injections directly into the eye that block the creation of blood vessels around the macula. Laser therapy may destroy the leaking blood vessels. New experimental treatments are being studied as well.
Living with macular degeneration
Many people with macular degeneration use a handheld magnifier. Reading and writing words that are in high contrast to the page is helpful. Many people with macular degeneration have difficulty with glare and reduce it by using blinds or curtains. Special vision devices may be helpful as well. Ask your doctor about various options; you may need to try different combinations to find one that works best for you.
The best way for macular degeneration to be diagnosed when it’s in its early stages and when it’s progression can be slowed, is through a regular eye examination. If you’re concerned about your eye health or have questions about anything else concerning your health care, our experts are available to help. Contact us at Hancock Regional Hospital and find your care team.