Macular degeneration is a painless eye condition that causes you gradually to lose your central vision (the ability to see what is directly in front of you). Macular degeneration occurs when the macula, the part of your eye that is responsible for central vision is unable to function as effectively as it used to. Macular degeneration does not affect your peripheral vision so the condition will not make you completely blind however can be a source of significant visual disability. Because the disease develops as a person ages, it is often referred to as Age related macular degeneration (AMD).
Types of Macular Degeneration
There are two types of macular degeneration, dry and wet. Dry macular degeneration affects your eyes gradually. Although there is no treatment for dry macular degeneration, there are ways you can learn to cope with it. Wet macular degeneration is more serious than dry macular degeneration, and can develop very quickly. It requires treatment as soon as possible.
Who is Affected by Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration most commonly affects people over 50 years of age. Approximately 2% of people over 50 years of age have age-related macular degeneration. In people over 65 years of age, the number rises sharply to 80%, with about 20% of those over 85 years of age having the condition. In fact, in older people, age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of visual impairment. Macular degeneration is more common in women than in men, although the reasons for this are not fully understood. In rare cases, young people can also be affected. This is usually caused by a genetic condition.
Can I Prevent Macular Degeneration?
This is the most common form of vision impairment in the UK and accounts for over 50% of blind registrations in the over 65 age group. This is significantly greater than the combined numbers of people suffering vision loss from cataract and glaucoma.
AMD is caused by a build up of natural biological waste products in the macula, the small central area of the retina at the back of the eye which is responsible for producing sharp, detailed central vision. In younger, healthier eyes these waste products are efficiently carried away, but where they persist they lead to cell destruction in the macula, so leading to loss and/or distortion of central vision (see picture for comparison).
'Dry' AMD is the more common and less severe form, whereby the waste products cause the area to thin and dry out, with visual deterioration occurring as the macula becomes distorted. There are currently no treatments available for this form of AMD.
Dry AMD can sometimes lead on to 'wet' AMD - this occurs when the eye tries to 'fix itself' by growing new, and unfortunately weak, abnormal blood vessels in the area. These can rupture causing a significant area of central vision to be lost and/or distorted. Recent advances which use an injection of a special light-sensitive drug combined with laser treatment to destroy the new vessels has had some success in treating in wet AMD.
Risk factors for AMD include smoking, UV exposure and poor (especially high fat) diet. Certain vitamins and nutrients may prevent or delay AMD progression - the I-Caps dietary supplement (available from us) provides the critical antioxidant vitamins, minerals and carotenoids in convenient tablet form. For more information about eye and macular diet click here.
For patients who have been to see there optometrist and have been advised to monitor AMD with an amsler grid please download your amsler grid check.