What is Age-related macular degeneration?
Age-related macular degeneration is a disease that causes blurring of your central vision. The blurring happens because of damage to the macula, a small area at the back of the eye. The macula helps you see the fine detail in things that your eyes are focusing on. Macular degeneration makes it harder to do things that require sharp central vision, like reading, driving, and recognizing faces. It does not affect side vision, so it does not lead to complete blindness.
There are two types of macular degeneration wet and dry.
The dry form is by far the most common type. The wet form is much less common, but it happens more quickly and is more severe.
The dry form accounts for about 9 out of 10 cases of macular degeneration. It develops slowly and causes central vision to become dimmer or more blurry over time. It usually does not cause severe vision loss unless it turns into the wet form.
The wet form accounts for only about 1 out of 10 cases of macular degeneration. It can cause serious vision loss within months or even weeks. People who have the wet form have the dry form first. You may have either type in just one eye, but over time you may get it in the other eye too.
What causes macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is the result of damage to the nerve cells in the macula. The process that leads to this damage is different for each type.
The dry form is a gradual process. As you age, the cells in the macula start to thin and break down, and waste deposits build up in the back of the eye. Over time, this damages the macula.
The wet form happens when abnormal blood vessels grow in the back of the eye. These blood vessels break easily and leak blood and fluid under the macula. This can quickly damage the macula and distort your central vision. Experts are still studying the causes of both forms, but they know several different things may play a part. You are more likely to have macular degeneration if:
You are an older adult. The risk of getting macular degeneration increases as you age, starting at around age 50.
A close family member has macular degeneration.
You are white.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of macular degeneration is dim or fuzzy central vision. Objects may look warped or smaller than they really are. You may have a blank or blind spot in the center of your field of vision. As the disease gets worse, you may have trouble with tasks like reading and driving. The two forms differ in how quickly symptoms develop and how severe they are.
If you have the dry form, your vision will probably become blurry slowly. You may have it for several years before it affects your ability to read, drive, and do everyday activities.
In the wet form, vision loss happens quickly and can be severe. Often the first symptom of the wet form is that straight lines look wavy or curved. If you think you might have wet macular degeneration, see your doctor right away. In some cases, quick treatment may help you keep your central vision.
How is macular degeneration diagnosed?
A doctor can usually detect macular degeneration by doing a regular eye exam and asking questions about your past health. You may have some vision tests, including an ophthalmoscopy. This test lets your doctor look at the inside of your eye. If you have macular degeneration, your doctor may see drusen. These are yellowish white waste deposits that can build up at the back of the eye. The doctor may have you look at a chart with lines and a dot at the center. This is called an amsler grid. It can help detect changes in your central vision. If you have the wet form, the lines near the center dot will look wavy or curved, or you may see a blank spot or hole in part of the grid.
If you have macular degeneration, your doctor will want to see you for regular follow-up exams. You can also use an Amsler grid at home. Looking at it every day will help you keep track of any changes in your vision.
How is it treated?
At this time, there is no cure for macular degeneration. But experts are exploring many new treatments that hold hope for the future. Your doctor can keep you up to date on any changes in treatment that might help you. A diet rich in antioxidant vitamins and minerals may help slow down vision loss in some people with moderate to severe macular degeneration. Talk to your doctor about whether this diet might help you. If you have the wet form of macular degeneration, you may have one or more of the following treatments:
- Photodynamic therapy
- Injections of medicine into your eye
- Laser surgery
- Vitamin Therapy
These treatments can’t restore central vision, but they may slow down vision loss. If your doctor recommends photodynamic therapy, injections, or laser surgery, it is important to have it done right away. How can you cope with vision problems? There are many things you can do at home to make the most of your remaining vision. Using vision aids like magnifying glasses or brighter lighting in your house may help you see better. You may be able to get large-print books and newspapers or a computer screen that displays large print or pictures. Having a good support network is important too. with vision loss. It can be scary to find out that you have a vision problem that will get worse. It is common to have a range of emotions. But if you feel very sad or hopeless, talk to your doctor.