Macular degeneration is a deterioration or breakdown of the macula. The macula is a small area in the retina at the back of the eye that allows you to see fine details clearly and perform activities such as reading and driving. When the macula does not function correctly, your central vision can be affected by blurriness, dark areas, or distortion. Macular degeneration affects your ability to see near and far and can make some activities—like threading a needle or reading—difficult or impossible.
Although macular degeneration reduces vision in the central part of the retina, it usually does not affect the eye’s side or peripheral vision. For example, you could see the outline of a clock but not be able to tell what time it is.
Macular degeneration alone does not result in total blindness. Even in more advanced cases, people continue to have some useful vision and often are able to take care of themselves. In many cases, macular degeneration’s impact on your vision can be minimal.
Many older people develop macular degeneration as part of the body’s natural aging process. There are different kinds of macular problems, but the most common is age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). There are two types of ARMD: Dry and Wet.
Most people have the more common “dry” form of ARMD, where vision loss is gradual, but usually progresses over the years. Dry macular degeneration may first develop in one eye and then affect both. It is caused by aging and thinning of the tissues of the macula. The macula is unable to dispose of all waste products, and these build up under the retina. These deposits under the retina are called drusen.
Drusen alone usually do not cause severe vision loss, but when they increase in size or number, this generally indicates an increased risk of developing advanced ARMD.
The “wet” form of macular degeneration accounts for about 10 percent of all ARMD cases and can develop quickly. Patients require treatment soon after symptoms appear as vision loss can be severe. It results when abnormal blood vessels form underneath the retina at the back of the eye. These new blood vessels leak fluid or blood and blur central vision. People at risk for developing advanced ARMD have significant dry ARMD, or abnormal blood vessels under the macula in one eye (“wet” form).
Macular degeneration can cause different symptoms in different people. The condition may be hardly noticeable in its early stages. Sometimes only one eye loses vision while the other eye continues to see well for many years. But when both eyes are affected, the loss of central vision may be noticed more quickly.
Many people do not realize they have a macular problem until blurred vision becomes obvious. At Southern Eye Group of Alabama we can detect early stages of ARMD during medical eye examinations that include certain visions tests, viewing the macula with an ophthalmoscope, and taking special photographs of the eye to find abnormal blood vessels under the retina.
Although the exact causes of macular degeneration are not fully understood, it is believed that inflammation plays a key role. Supplementation with antioxidant vitamins, lutein, and zinc can help reduce inflammation and may slow the progression of ARMD in some people.
It is very important to remember that vitamin supplements are not a cure for ARMD, nor will they restore vision that you may have already lost from the disease. However, specific amounts of these vitamins do play a key role in helping some people at high risk for advanced ARMD maintain their vision. We can help you determine if you are at risk for developing advanced ARMD and if supplements are recommended for you.
For Certain types of “wet” macular degeneration, Anti-VEGF treatments can promote regression of the abnormal blood vessels and improve vision when injected directly into the vitreous humor of the eye. The injection can block the signal for abnormal blood vessel growth under the retina.
That chemical signal is called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Anti-VEGF drugs block the trouble-causing VEGF, reducing the growth of abnormal blood vessels and slowing their leakage. This treatment generally results in stabilization of vision. If the vision change is treated promptly, the medication may even be able to restore vision. However, because the body breaks down the medication, most patients require repeated injections over time.
To help you adapt to lower vision levels, we can prescribe optical devices or refer you to a low-vision specialist or center. A wide range of support services and rehabilitation programs are available to help people with macular degeneration maintain a satisfying lifestyle. Because side vision is usually not affected, a person’s remaining sight is very useful. Often, people can continue with many of their favorite activities by using low-vision optical devices such as magnifying devices, closed-circuit television, large-print reading materials, and talking or computerized devices.
If you are concerned about macular degeneration, or are seeking treatment for the condition, contact Southern Eye Group of Alabama today!