What is Macular Degeneration?
An incurable type of eye disorder, macular degeneration is one of the main causes of blindness throughout the world. About 10 million Americans, mainly the elderly, suffer from this disease.
The primary cause of this condition is the deterioration of the retina’s middle portion, which records images and sends information to the brain as seen by the eye. The macula, which is the affected area of the retina in this disorder, enables you to see objects clearly, recognize colors, read and do any activities that require clear eyesight.
Macular Degeneration Overview
The macula is the retina’s highly sensitive area, and it is responsible for the collection of detailed images picked up at the center vision field. Then, these images are sent to the optic nerve and into the brain, which are then interpreted. However, the deterioration of the macula causes the improper reception of these images.
During the initial stages of this condition, vision is not entirely affected. As time goes by, the disease progresses, and this may lead to distortion in one’s vision. You may begin to experience blurred vision, which may eventually result to total loss of central vision. In fact, people who are diagnosed with advanced stages of this disease are legally blind since the peripheral vision is not as clear and accurate as the central vision – even if the retina still functions.
Macular Degeneration Stages
In the case of age-related type of macular degeneration, there are three stages involved such as the early, intermediate and late. During the early stages of this disease, there is no loss of vision experienced. The eye specialist will check for signs of this condition, which is the presence of drusen, or yellow deposits found in the retina. It is also in this stage that you need to undergo eye examinations regularly to monitor any changes in vision properly.
In the intermediate stage of age-related macular degeneration, some vision loss may occur. Although the symptoms may not be quite noticeable, it is still important to go through regular eye checkups. During an eye exam, your doctor will have to check for either pigment changes occurring in the retina or larger deposits of drusen.
Lastly, the late stages of this disease is far more severe. Vision loss is more evident, and you will have a difficult time performing activities that require accurate vision including reading, driving and similar tasks. Hence, if you are diagnosed with this problem, you should consult your doctor for proper management of this condition.
Risk Factors of Macular Degeneration
There are complex factors that contribute to the occurrence of macular degeneration. In the case of age-related macular degeneration, it can be caused by environmental factors or genetics. Further studies are being conducted to determine the causes of deterioration of macula cells, so a treatment breakthrough can be achieved.
Unfortunately, while treatment is still yet to be discovered, there is an increasing concern among the elderly who will potentially suffer from this condition. According to the National Eye Institute‘s former director, Dr. Carl Kupfer, it is possible for macular degeneration to become as epidemic that will impact baby boomers.
Since there are no developments on the prevention and treatment of this condition, it is expected that about 6.3 elderly Americans will suffer from age-related macular degeneration by 2030. Primarily, the risk factor for this condition is old age.
This eye disease is common among the elderly, particularly those who are over 55 years old. However, there are several other risk factors for this disease including genetics, smoking and race. Based on studies, Caucasians have higher chances of developing this disorder, as compared to Hispanics and African-Americans. Also, individuals whose family members have a history of this disease may also develop the same condition.
At present, there is still no specific cure for age-related macular degeneration. This is due to the ongoing research and study on the cause of this condition, other than genetic factors. However, you can reduce your chances of developing this eye problem by undergoing eye exams for early diagnosis.
Once you know that you have this disease (or you are at risk), you should make immediate changes in your lifestyle. Improving your diet, quitting smoking, getting plenty of rest and protecting your eyes from absorbing ultraviolet light can potentially slow down the progression of the disease.