Macular degeneration – sometimes called age-related macular degeneration or AMD – is an eye condition that predominantly affects patients aged 50 or older. This is because the condition is characterized by the age-related degeneration of a crucially important part of the eye called the macula. The macula is located near the center of the retina and t is responsible for sharp, detailed central vision, which is sometimes referred to as visual acuity. It also enables us to see color clearly. As the cells of the macula deteriorate with advancing age, it has a significant impact on our central vision.
Macular degeneration is a progressive condition with no cure. However, early detection and preventative measures can help to delay the onset of vision loss and many people don’t lose all of their sight. Here’s what you need to know about diagnosing and treating macular degeneration.
There are two different types of macular degeneration. ‘Dry’ AMD is by far the most common, affecting an estimated 80-90% of patients diagnosed with the condition. Exactly what causes the cells of the macula to degenerate in this type of AMD isn’t known. ‘Wet’ AMD is rare, affecting 10-20% of people. Unlike the dry version, this type of AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels under the retina begin to grow towards the macula. These break and leak fluid, damaging the macula and causing a much more rapid loss of vision.
Dry macular degeneration usually develops much more slowly than the wet variety, and this means that the symptoms are just as unhurried. Eye pain is rare. Instead, patients can expect to experience:
Colors seem faded
Difficulty visually adapting between different lighting levels
Straight lines may appear bent or wavy
You may need brighter light when reading or doing close-up work
It may become difficult to recognize faces
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important that you speak to your eye doctor to arrange an assessment, as it could be that you are suffering from macular degeneration or another eye problem.
Your eye doctor will need to run a series of tests to assess your vision and determine if you are affected by macular degeneration. These diagnostic tests could include the following:
Ophthalmoscopy: You will need to have your eyes dilated using special eye drops before this exam, which is carried out using a piece of equipment called an ophthalmoscope. This allows your eye doctor to look at the macula to see if there are any abnormalities.
Visual acuity testing: This is the test that most people are familiar with and involves reading letters or numbers off of a chart at different distances to determine how clearly you can see.
OCT testing: OCT or optical coherence tomography is a non-invasive technique that is used to take cross-sectional images of the retina so that the different layers and their thicknesses can be measured.
Fluorescein angiography: If your eye doctor believes that you could have wet AMD, you may be given a test called an angiography which is where fluorescent dye is injected into your arm and passes through the blood vessels to the retina. If the blood vessels are leaking, your doctor will be able to see evidence of the dye leaking into your eyes.
There is no cure for macular degeneration. However, there are things that patients who are diagnosed with the condition can do to preserve their sight for as long as possible. In fact, many patients learn to manage their condition so that, with help, they can retain their sight and continue to enjoy a good quality of life.
A healthy lifestyle is key to a long, happy, and healthy life. It is also necessary to have any chance of slowing the progression of macular degeneration. Studies have shown that people who eat a healthy, balanced diet, consume alcohol in moderation, and don’t smoke are less likely to experience macular degeneration. Making positive changes to your lifestyle can also slow its progression. You may want to consider taking supplements to boost your eye health too. Your eye doctor will be able to tell you which ones will offer you the greatest benefits.
Many people with macular degeneration are experiencing low vision rather than total vision loss. Vision aids can help to limit the effect on your life and your eye doctor will be able to talk to you about which could be beneficial for you. They could include useful devices, such as magnifying lenses, brighter lighting indoors, and training your eyes.
In some cases, patients may be recommended to have eye injections. These are anti-VEGF medicines that are injected directly into the eye. Numbing eye drops are given beforehand. Eye injections are extremely effective, stopping vision getting worse in around 90% of patients, and even improving the vision of some.
Also known as photodynamic therapy (PDT for short), this is where a light is shined at the back of the eyes to destroy blood vessels that are causing wet AMD. This therapy can be combined with eye injections in cases of serious macular degeneration.
If you have further questions about macular degeneration, or if you would like to schedule an appointment to discuss your concerns with our team in Westerville, OH, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.