Age-related macular degeneration from A to Z: Everything you should know about this eye condition
Age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease that usually affects people aged 60 and over, so while you might not be immediately at risk, someone close to you, like your parents or grandparents may be at a greater risk. In this blog post, we take an informative, in-depth look at macular degeneration, touching on the symptoms and risks of this eye disease.
What is macular degeneration?
According to the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, macular degeneration is a leading cause of poor vision and blindness in seniors, accounting for almost 90% of new cases of legal blindness in Canada.
Age-related macular degeneration happens when a part of our eye called the macula (the central area of the retina) deteriorates with age. The macula is responsible for controlling visual acuity (the sharpness of vision) so when it starts to fail, vision is impeded.
While age-related macular degeneration is a bilateral condition (meaning it appears in both eyes), it can progress at a different rate in each eye.
Unfortunately, macular degeneration is not a curable disease. So your best bet is to take some helpful steps to prevent it from becoming a major issue.
What causes macular degeneration?
- There are many potential causes to age-related macular degeneration but one major piece to the puzzle is our genetics. Researchers at Duke University, a medical school in North Carolina, found that the presence of a gene in our DNA called the CFH gene (or the complement factor H) has been linked to almost half of age-related macular degeneration causes that resulted in blindness.
- Lifestyle factors like obesity (especially weight deposit in the mid-section), cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure are all factors that may put you at risk for this disease.
- Another cause of age-related macular degeneration is the presence of oxygen-deprived cells in the retina. These cells produce a type of protein known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and when the protein is released, it encourages the growth of new blood vessels. While this may be helpful in cases where blood vessel regrowth is necessary (for example, after an injury to the eye), it can be detrimental in other ways. Too much of this protein forces the development of new blood vessels in the retina. These may be fragile and open up easily. When they burst or break, blood seeps into the eye and damages the macula.
- You already know that it’s bad for you, but did you know that cigarette smoke can be harmful to your eyesight, too? That’s right: According to findings reported on by the British Journal of Ophthalmology, those who habitually smoke cigarettes are putting their eyes at risk. Smoking has been linked to roughly 25% of age-related macular degeneration cases.
If you think some of your lifestyle habits or health concerns put you or a loved one at risk for age-related macular degeneration, then speak to a healthcare professional or optometrist.
Symptoms of macular degeneration and what you should look out for
Some common symptoms of age-related macular degeneration include:
- Blurred, fuzzy, or distorted vision
- Wavy or distorted lines of text on a page when reading; lettering may look blurry
- Trouble recognizing faces
- Decrease in brightness or boldness of colours
- Difficulty adapting to low-lit rooms
Remember: In the early stages of macular degeneration, symptoms may be similar to what is experienced with other eye conditions. You may not know you have macular degeneration until you seek out medical advice or assistance. Visit your optometrist at least once a year to ensure your vision is in proper health.
Can children get macular degeneration?
Yes. Although much more common in adults, there is one type of macular degeneration called Stargardt disease (or juvenile macular degeneration) that is found in children. Scientists believe this is caused by a recessive gene.
Symptoms of Stargardt disease are similar to age-related macular degeneration in adults: poor vision in low-lit settings, a decrease in colours.
Currently, there is no treatment available for Stardgardt disease. Ophthalmologists recommend wearing dark, light-blocking sunglasses when going out in the sun and avoiding cigarette smoke at all costs. High doses of Vitamin A may be helpful in combatting symptoms of this eye condition.
Spotting the differences between wet and dry macular degeneration
There are two types of age-related macular degeneration: dry (atrophic) and wet (neovascular). Dry macular degeneration affects approximately 80 to 90% of individuals who suffer from this condition. With this type of macular degeneration, small, white or yellow deposits called drusen form on the retina (right below the macular). Their presence forces the macula to degenerate over time.
Eventually, dry macular degeneration will progress into a more advanced form known as geographic atrophy.
When wet macular degeneration occurs, “wet” blood vessels form under the retina. These newly-formed blood vessels grow, and damage the macula, causing it to move and pull away from its base. With wet macular degeneration, vision loss can happen swiftly and without much warning.
LASIK and macular degeneration: What you need to know
Here’s how you can help prevent macular degeneration
For now, there is no cure for age-related macular degeneration. But there are some tangible treatment and medications that can help stave off symptoms (for more information about what they are, speak to your optometrist or general physician). There are also steps you can take to ensure you’re staying on top of eye health.
Firstly, healthy living is a great step you can take. A healthy diet, cigarette-free living, and frequent exercise are great ways to keep your overall health in check. Seriously—exercise does the body, from head-to-toe, a world of good: It was found that those who live an active lifestyle were 70% less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration later on in life.
In terms of dietary changes you can make, we’ve got a few tips: Be sure to order that extra guacamole next time you’re at a restaurant. Because when it comes to your eyesight, avocados are game-changers. This fruit contains an ingredient called carotenoid lutein—as a matter of fact, avocados have more than any other fruit—which helps prevent against age-related eye conditions such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Carotenoid lutein has been found to absorb roughly 40 to 90% of blue light intensity so in a way, it serves as sunblock for your eyes.
Fill your fridge and cupboard up with zinc-rich food, such as dark turkey or chicken meat, lean lamb, starchy beans like pinto, garbanzo, or kidney beans, for example. Stock up on nuts, too: pine nuts, cashews, and peanuts, are all rich in zinc.
Finally: Wear sunglasses when outdoors. More than just a fashionable accessory, sunglasses with polarized lenses and UV protection can help protect your vision. This is because excessive UV light exposure harms pigment cells inside the retina, speeding up age-related macular degeneration. When shopping for sunglasses, choose a pair with 100% UV absorption, and styles that wraparound can offer additional protection (the sun’s rays shine all over, not just in the front).
Your eye health matters
No matter how old you are, healthy vision is important to consider at any stage of life. Even though age-related macular degeneration usually only occurs in people aged 60 and over, we think that it’s never too early to keep an eye out for potential eye disease. So whether you’re looking to get your vision checked now, or are just curious about how laser vision correction can help you find freedom from glasses and contact lenses, book a free consultation with us to see how we can help.