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Losing Sight: What You Need to Know About Macular Degeneration

Losing Sight: What You Need to Know About Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration feature

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one the most common cause of severe vision loss in people over 50 years old. AMD affects more than 10 million Americans, more than cataracts and glaucoma combined.

What is Macular Degeneration?

The National Eye Institute’s website explains that “Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that can blur your central vision. It happens when aging causes damage to the macula — the part of the eye that controls sharp, straight-ahead vision. The macula is part of the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye).”

There are two main types of AMD: dry and wet. The dry form is more common and impacts around 80% of AMD patients. In the dry form, the macula breaks down slowly in one eye at a time, and the loss of vision is gradual. There are three stages to dry AMD: early, intermediate, and late. If you have AMD in one eye, you are at risk of getting it in the other eye.

With the wet form of AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow beneath the retina and then leak blood and fluid (which is why it is called “wet”). The leak can create a blind spot in the center of the eye, causing severe vision loss.

Types of Macular Degeneration

AMD impacts central vision only and not peripheral (side) vision. In some patients, the progression of the disease is slow, while in others, the loss of vision can happen quickly. It is rare to go blind from AMD. However, as the condition worsens, vision loss can significantly impact a patient’s life. People with advanced AMD may be unable to operate a motor vehicle, read small print, or even recognize familiar faces.

Risk factors for developing AMD include being over 50, smoking, having a family history of AMD, eating a diet high in saturated fat, and having high blood pressure or hypertension. AMD is more common in women than men.

Diagnosing Macular Degeneration

Woman getting eye exam

If a person is experiencing blurry vision or notices that straight lines appear wavy, they should immediately see an eye doctor. (To self-check at home, use this Amsler Grid.)

Even if a person is not experiencing any vision changes, it is essential to get regular annual check-ups. In the early and even intermediate stages of AMD, patients may experience little to no loss in vision. Still, there are chances that an eye doctor can detect any issues during an examination. As explained on the website Sight Matters, “Your doctor may detect small deposits, or drusen, in your macula that can damage the eye, though you may not notice any change in your vision. The drusen may be in one or both eyes.” The earlier AMD is detected, the more that can be done to slow down the progression.

An eye exam is painless and straightforward. The eye doctor will dilate (widen) the pupil of the eyes with eye drops and then check for AMD and other eye problems. The doctor may also perform an optical coherence tomography (OCT) test that takes pictures inside the eye.

Treatment for Macular Degeneration

While there is no cure for AMD, there are ways to treat it depending on the type and stage, and treatment can slow down the progression of the disease.

For early-stage dry AMD, physicians will suggest patients adopt a healthy lifestyle (including healthy eating, regular exercise, and quitting smoking) and continue with regular eye exams.

In intermediate-stage dry AMD, the doctor may suggest the patient take vitamins and minerals supplements to stop it from becoming late AMD. If a patient has AMD in one eye, a supplement regimen could slow down the progression to the other eye.

There are several different treatment options for wet AMD, including eye injections and laser treatments to possibly stop continued vision loss. An eye doctor can help a patient determine the best treatment option for them.

Macular Degeneration Diet

Longevity or Mediterranean diets include salmon, nuts and avocado. Healthy fats

If you have symptoms of macular degeneration or a family history of AMD and an unhealthy diet, you may benefit from taking supplements. The National Eye Institute study determined that people who took daily supplements of certain vitamins (such as vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids) could slow down the progression of ADM in some patients. However, before taking any supplements, it is essential to check with your physician (especially if you are taking any other over-the-counter or prescription medications).

Regardless of if you decide to take a supplement, it is always a good idea to get nutrients from your foods. As explained on the website Sight Matters, “The AMD diet includes foods that contain healthy amounts of specific vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, some fish, and nuts and seeds—a Mediterranean-style diet fits the bill fairly well. Just as important, the AMD diet avoids other foods that might contribute to chronic conditions associated with macular degeneration or that directly affect the eyes.”

If you’re concerned about AMD, talk to your doctor and set up an action plan to diagnose, treat, or slow the progression of the disease. 

Supplement Options for Macular Degeneration:

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