Macular degeneration is a degenerative eye disease that is the most common serious eye disease among adults over age 60. As a result, it is also identified as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), as there are other types of macular degeneration. It is a progressive disease that cannot be cured but early detection and treatment are important in stopping its spread.
There are also other less common types of macular degeneration, such as Sorsby’s disease, Best’s disease, and Stargardt’s disease, which are hereditary and can affect younger people. These are known collectively as juvenile macular degenerative diseases.
Extreme near-sightedness and other diseases of the retina can also result in the degeneration of the macula and while not to be confused with age-related macular degeneration, can have the same end result of the loss of central vision.
Types of Molecular Degeneration
Dry Macular Degeneration
The “dry” or “atrophic” form of “macular degeneration” is usually identified by yellowish deposits of debris in the retina. The material comprising these deposits is usually carried away by the same blood vessels that carry nutrients into the retina. The success of this action appears to be reduced in cases of macular degeneration. There are a number of proposed causes for this including:
- Inadequate blood circulation in the retina
- Premature aging of the sight cells due to genetic deficiencies
- Environmental factor
- Dietary factors
- Behavioral factors
One of the requirements of your body for a healthy life is Omega-3 fatty acids, something usually found in fish oils. A deficiency of these oils can lead to eye disorders, muscle weaknesses, and skin problems, tingling arms and legs, and behavioral changes. Supplementing your diet with a good source of Omega-3 will not only help improve your heart health and blood pressure but will be a benefit to your overall health and wellbeing.
The Three Stages:
There are three stages of “dry” macular degeneration which can occur in either one or both eyes:
Early – while there are no obvious symptoms or vision loss at this stage it can be identified by several small drusen or a few medium-sized drusen (the yellowish deposits of debris in the retina)
Intermediate – this stage is identified by many medium-sized drusen or one or more large, irregular-shaped drusen, also known as “soft” drusen. A blurred or blind spot (scotoma) or distortion of images in the central field of vision are possible symptoms as well as a need for more light or higher contrast to see.
Advanced – A breakdown of light-sensing photoreceptor cells and surrounding tissue in the macula, couple with the drusen as outlined in the intermediate stage, are identifiers. Detailed vision is now impossible with the sufferer needing to rely solely on peripheral vision for sight with scotomas becoming larger, distortion more severe, and possibly encompassing the entire center field of vision.
Scientific research is being conducted to identify treatments and cures for both dry macular degeneration and juvenile forms. While there is currently no way to prevent dry macular degeneration a number of studies have shown steps that can be taken that may help slow its progress:
- Eat a diet rich in leafy green vegetables
- Daily supplementation of antioxidants and zinc as recommended by the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS)
- Lutein and Zeaxanthin supplements to accompany your healthy diet
- Wear wide-brim hats and wrap-around sunglasses to protect against ultraviolet rays and blue light in excessively bright sunlight
- Avoid cigarette smoke
- Do Exercise
- Find your recommended body mass index (BMI) and maintain it
- Maintain good overall health with the flexibility to all membranes
- Contact a low vision specialist if your vision worsens
Wet Macular Degeneration
“Wet” macular degeneration is identified in only 10-15% of macular degeneration cases and is typified by newly-formed, immature blood vessels growing from the vascular layer of the eye between the retina and the sclera. These leaks into the spaces above and below the photoreceptor cells, a process that can cause permanent central vision loss by damaging the photoreceptor cells.
Of this 10-15 %, nearly 90% of all “wet” macular degeneration cases occur beneath the fovea or very center of the macula. There are three main subtypes of sub-foveal “wet” macular degeneration:
Predominantly classic – The most aggressive form, leads to quicker vision loss than other subtypes with the leaking blood vessels being well-defined. This subtype makes up approximately 25 % of all “wet” macular degeneration cases.
Occult – Making up around 40% of cases and results in the slowest rate of vision loss. In this form, the leaking blood vessels are “hidden” beneath the fovea and not well-defined.
Minimally classic – Slower vision loss than predominantly classic, faster than occult, this form is seen in about 35% of cases.
Surgical procedures, including laser treatments, have only shown temporary success, which in my opinion is simply a waste of money for a temporary fix.
Lutein has a key role in the battle to protect the retina with a good nutritional diet, or nutritional supplements, as its major ally. A product I use not only contains Lutein but zeaxanthin, in a formula that can help support normal eyesight and improve circulation to the eyes. As a healthy blood circulation in the eyes is one way you may be able to assist reduce the build-up of drusen in the retina, this product is specifically made for that purpose.
Healthy Weight and Eye Health:
Finding your recommended body mass index (BMI) is one thing – keeping it is another. A key part of that particular requirement is a healthy digestive system. The use of a probiotic to promote a healthy digestive system is one way you may be able to achieve that. There will be another benefit in that a good probiotic may also assist in nutrient absorption and improved immune function, two key factors in ensuring eye health.
Antioxidants and Eye Health:
A daily supplement of antioxidants can be considered a necessary component of our daily health routine, with AREDS indicating specific daily amounts for antioxidants and zinc required for good eye health including vitamin C; E; beta-carotene (vitamin A); zinc oxide; and cupric oxide.
What Is The END Result?
Macular degeneration, on its own, does not lead to total blindness. At its worst, it will damage only central vision, in the macular area. This area, while comprising under 5% of the total retina, is responsible for around 35% of the visual field. An affected person will not be able to read, drive, or even recognize faces, or will find it very difficult, but their peripheral vision is left untouched. Because of this many people with macular degeneration can move about with little or no assistance and lead both an independent and productive life. Some have even learned to use visual aids like magnifiers, special bioptic glasses, or even closed-circuit TV readers. For people with advanced cases, it is recommended they contact providers of low vision rehabilitation programs who can assist with the evaluation of visual needs, assistance with environmental adaptations, and training in the use of low vision devices and software programs.
The risk of developing macular degeneration is dependent on two factors – age and whether drusen and/or changes in retinal color are present. Internet research has shown studies that have identified the following statistics:
- A person 80 years of age or older has a 42% chance of developing age-related macular degeneration within five years
- A person aged under 60 with a healthy retina has a 0.7% chance
- A person aged between 60 and 80 with a healthy retina has that chance increased to 22.5%.
- A person with age-related macular degeneration in one eye has a chance between 38.7% and 55% of developing the disease in the other eye.