Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is one of the leading causes of vision loss and blindness in people over the age of 65. Macular degeneration affects the macula, which is the part of the retina that is responsible for the crisp, detailed vision needed for reading or driving. With time, the tissue in the eye that is responsible for central vision slowly begins to deteriorate which can significantly affect a patient's quality of life.
Macular degeneration can be classified as either wet (neovascular) or dry (non-neovascular). Dry macular degeneration is more common and is considered to be an early stage of the disease. This type of disease usually develops as a result of aging. The macular tissues start to thin and there is deposition of pigment within the macula. Patients may or may not experience distorted central vision.
About 10% of patients with dry macular degeneration progress to wet macular degeneration, the more advanced and damaging form. In wet macular degeneration, new blood vessels develop beneath the retina and cause a leakage of blood and fluid. This leakage can lead to permanent central vision loss.
Patients with dry macular degeneration may notice gradual changes to their vision, including shadowy areas in the central vision, or fuzzy and distorted vision. These areas grow larger as the disease progresses, and can eventually turn into blind spots. Patients may also have difficulty seeing color and fine details. With wet macular degeneration, central vision loss can occur rapidly, sometimes in as little as a few days or weeks.
The doctor detects early signs of macular degeneration, before any symptoms occur, through a regular eye exam. Any signs of this condition can be further confirmed by testing your central vision with an Amsler grid test. Regular eye exams are important in detecting macular degeneration and other serious eye conditions as early as possible, so that permanent side effects can be avoided.
One of the early signs of macular degeneration includes drusen. Drusen is an eye condition in which there are yellow deposits in the macula. This indicates that damage has occurred to the layers directly underneath the retina. Drusen usually progresses slowly but may cause central vision loss.
Causes and Risk Factors
While many cases of macular degeneration are a result of aging and the natural deterioration of the eye tissue, some cases can also be genetic. Macular degeneration is most common in females and Caucasians. The risk for all patients increases with age. Other factors that may increase your risk of macular degeneration include:
- High fat diet
- Prolonged sun exposure
- High blood pressure
- Lighter eye color
- Side effects of certain drugs
Patients can minimize their risk of macular degeneration by practicing a healthy, active life and getting regular eye exams. It is important for all patients to exercise regularly, avoid smoking, and eat a balanced diet that includes healthy foods.
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