Macular degeneration is an eye condition that can lead to significant central, though not peripheral, vision loss for its sufferers. It is often known as age-related macular degeneration, as the condition is very rare in individuals under the age of 55. Like many eye conditions, vision loss is progressive, although early diagnosis and treatment can halt the loss of vision in many people.
The condition is caused by problems with the blood vessels connected to the retina. There are two main types of damage that cause the condition:
- As the blood vessels become brittle, deposits of a material called drussen begin to form. This is called dry macular degeneration.
- Wet macular degeneration, on the other hand, is caused by the formation of new blood vessels. These blood vessels are leaky and easily scar, leading to vision loss. The “wet” version of the disease is less common than dry macular degeneration.
Age and heredity are both connected to the development of macular degeneration, and there isn’t much that you can do about either of these things. (The condition is also more common in women and Caucasians.) However, obesity, eating a poor diet and smoking may make you more susceptible to developing macular degeneration, so making some positive lifestyle changes may improve your chances of avoiding the condition.
The most common symptoms of macular degeneration differ according to type. A person with dry macular degeneration may find that his or her vision has become blurry, though he or she is likely able to still function get around independently and complete everyday tasks. Eventually, however, those with the condition will find that their vision becomes worse and that they may need assistive technologies to compensate for their vision loss. Those who have the “wet” version of the condition may first notice that straight lines appear wavy and a dark spot may appear in their central vision, according to The National Institutes of Health.
In the past I’ve harped on the importance of regular eye exams. A big part of the reason for this is that it’s a lot easier for your eye doctor to slow or halt the progression of an eye condition if he or she catches it early. This is particularly true when it comes to macular degeneration, as early interventions can preserve your vision. According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s not possible to restore vision lost to advanced or severe macular degeneration.
Eye doctors can perform a series of tests to diagnose the condition. If you have dry macular degeneration, your doctor may recommend nutritional supplements that can help slow vision loss. Doctors can treat wet macular degeneration with drugs and laser surgery.
If you’ve sustained significant damage to your vision, it is possible to receive help in making the most of the vision that you have, as well as adapting to the the changes in your eyesight. AMD Alliance International, an advocacy organization for those living with macular degeneration, can help you find appropriate resources, as can the American Foundation for the Blind.