Macular degeneration is the physical disturbance of the center of the retina called the macula. The macula, which is about the size of the capital letter ” O” in this sentence, is the part of the retina, which is capable of our most acute and detailed vision. It is also the location of most of our color receptors. We use the macula for reading, driving, recognizing faces, watching television, and fine work. Because of the central location of the macula and the way light enters the eye, Macular degeneration leads to the loss of central vision. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of legal blindness in people over age 55. (Legal blindness means that a person can see 20/200 or less with eyeglasses.) Even with a loss of central vision, some color vision and peripheral vision may remain clear. Vision loss usually occurs gradually and typically affects both eyes at different rates.
The root causes of macular degeneration are still unknown. There are two forms of age-related macular degeneration, “wet” and “dry.” Ninety percent of patients have the “dry” form, which involves thinning of the macular tissues and disturbances in its pigmentation. Ten percent have the “wet” form, which can involve bleeding within and beneath the retina, opaque deposits, and eventually scar tissue.
Different forms of macular degeneration may occur in younger patients. These nonage related cases may be linked to heredity, diabetes, nutritional deficits, head injury, infection, or other factors.
Declining vision noticed by the patient or by a doctor during a routine eye exam may be the first indicator of macular degeneration. The formation of new blood vessels and exudates, or “drusen,” from blood vessels in and under the macular is often the first physical sign that macular degeneration may develop. In addition, the following signs may be indicative of macular problems. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should consult an ophthalmologist immediately:
- Straight lines appear distorted or “wavy” and, in some cases, the center of vision appears more distorted than the rest of the scene.
- A dark, blurry area or “white-out” appears in the center of vision.
- Color perception changes or diminishes.
The following are NOT known to be linked to macular degeneration: floaters (moving spots caused by debris floating in the vitreous fluid between the lens and the retina); dry eye syndromes; cataracts and cataract surgery.
If I have macular degeneration in one eye, will it develop in the other? Yes, this is usually the case. In the early stages, only one eye may be affected, but as the disease progresses, both eyes are usually affected.
Can nutrition help treat macular degeneration? Some scientists have suggested an association between macular degeneration and high saturated fat and other substances in the diet. There is evidence that eating fresh fruits and dark green, leafy vegetables (such as spinach and collard greens) may delay or reduce the severity of age-related macular degeneration. Taking antioxidants like Vitamins C and E has been shown to have positive effects in slowing the progression of the disease in some cases. Other trace mineral and nutrients are also important for the health of the eyes.
Macular degeneration appears to be hereditary in some families but not in others. Since macular degeneration affects most patients later in life, it is difficult to study successive generations in a family. Recent studies of twins indicate that both genetic and non-genetic factors play important roles in age-related macular degeneration.
Yes. It has been demonstrated that the blue rays of the spectrum seem to accelerate macular degeneration more than other rays of the spectrum. This means that very bright light, such as sunlight or its reflection in the ocean and desert, may worsen macular degeneration. Special sunglasses that block out the blue end of the spectrum may decrease the progress of the disease.
Yes. Hypertension tends to make some forms of macular degeneration worse, especially in the “wet” form where the retinal tissues are invaded by new blood vessels.
Yes. Any type of smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke can accelerate the development of the “wet” type of macular degeneration.
One in six over 65 and one in three over 74 have this disease.
Yes. Until recently there has been no successful treatment for macular degeneration. For many years patients have had to rely on low vision aids, nutrition, and risky laser surgery to cope with this disease. There is now a new treatment using acupuncture points and a microcurrent stimulator that has shown the first effective results in treating the dry and wet form of macular degeneration, and also Juvenile Macular Degeneration, and Retinitis Pigmentosa.