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What is Macular Degeneration?

What is macular degeneration? | Dry macular degeneration & wet macular degeneration | Age-related macular degeneration symptoms | What causes macular degeneration? | Age-related macular degeneration treatments | How to prevent age-related macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration is a condition affecting a part of the eye called the macula. It can be hereditary, although there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing it.
macular degeneration

What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common condition which usually happens to people in their 50’s and 60’s. Age-related macular degeneration causes deterioration of the central area of the retina of the eyes.

This area is known as the macula and it controls our visual acuity, ensuring our ability to read, see, drive and perform other visual tasks. Macular degeneration doesn’t cause complete blindness, but it can significantly reduce our ability to see and perform daily tasks which require us to see fine details.

Dry macular degeneration & wet macular degeneration

How long does it take to lose your vision with macular degeneration? It depends on the type of AMD you have. There are 2 types of AMD: dry macular degeneration and wet macular degeneration. You can gradually lose your vision over several years with dry AMD whereas with wet AMD, you can lose it very quickly in a matter of weeks or even days.

  • Dry macular degeneration is caused by an accumulation of a fatty substance known as drusen at the back of the eye around the macula area. Dry AMD is the early stage of the disease. Even though the visual loss is not as significant as that caused by wet AMD, dry AMD can get gradually worse over several years and can eventually become severe. 
  • Wet macular degeneration is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels at the back of the eye. These vessels can leak blood and fluid into the macula. This damages the light-sensitive retinal cells, creating a central blind spot. In contrast to dry AMD, wet AMD can get worse much more quickly, sometimes in days or weeks. Wet AMD is a less common type of AMD and it can severely affect a person’s vision.

Smoking increases your risk of developing AMD and a host of other eye conditions.

Age-related macular degeneration symptoms

Age-related macular degeneration is usually a slow and painless process of losing vision. It does not create any change in the appearance of the eye. Early signs of vision loss from AMD include a blurred and distorted area in your vision.  Patients usually struggle to see the middle area of their field of vision.

People suffering from AMD usually see straight lines as being wavy or crooked, things look smaller than normal, colours seem less bright and they see things that aren’t there.

What causes macular degeneration?

The exact cause of macular degeneration is unknown however, research has shown that a combination of different factors may increase your risk of suffering from age-related macular degeneration. 

  • Ageing: All parts of the body change as we age so it is normal that your risk of AMD significantly increases when you turn 40. This is the most common reason why you could get AMD.
  • Smoking: If you smoke, you are more likely to develop AMD as smoking kills the cells of the retina, reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients delivered to the eye and damages blood vessels.
  • High blood pressure: This can be another cause of macular degeneration.
  • Obesity: Obesity doubles the risk of developing macular degeneration.
  • Family history and genetics: Macular degeneration is more likely to be inherited from family members who suffer with the same disease.  
  • Sedentary lifestyle: Research has shown that people who are more active reduce their risk of developing advanced AMD compared to those who are inactive.

Age-related macular degeneration treatments

  1. Dry AMD: No treatment
  2. Wet AMD: This can be treated with regular eye injections or photodynamic therapy.

How to prevent age-related macular degeneration?

AMD is usually linked to an unhealthy lifestyle. The following may help to reduce your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration:

  • Stop smoking: Smoking increases the risk of AMD and makes it progress faster. 
  • Eat a healthy diet: Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables to provide your body with good nutrition and reduce the risk of AMD. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids in salmon are thought to be important for eye health.
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise to help maintain a healthy weight and normal blood pressure.
  • Wear sunglasses: Sunglasses protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and HEV radiation.

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