Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of impaired reading or detailed vision. It is caused by the breakdown of the macula (central portion of the retina. The Macula allows us to read, drive, and perform detailed work. Macular degeneration is most commonly a natural result of the aging process. With time retinal tissues break down causing a loss of function of the macula; traditionally Macular Degeneration is a disease that affects individuals over the age of 55 years, however, recent discoveries have shown that a significant number of these individuals may have a major genetic component that contributes to the disease.
Dry macular degeneration, in which the cells of the macula slowly begin to break down, is diagnosed in 90 percent of the cases. Yellow deposits called “drusen” form under the retina between the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) and Bruch’s membrane, which supports the retina. Drusen deposits are “debris” associated with compromised cell metabolism in the RPE and are often the first sign of macular degeneration. Eventually, there is a deterioration of the macular regions associated with the drusen deposits resulting in a spotty loss of “straight ahead” vision.
Wet macular degeneration occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow behind the macula, then bleed. There is a breakdown in Bruch’s membrane, which usually occurs near drusen deposits and this is where the new blood vessel growth occurs (neovascularization). These vessels are very fragile and leak fluid and blood (hence ‘wet’), resulting in scarring of the macula and the potential for rapid, severe damage. “Straight ahead” vision can become distorted or lost entirely in a short period of time, sometimes within days. Wet macular degeneration accounts for approximately 10% of the cases, however it results in 90% of the legal blindness.
What are the symptoms of Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration can cause different symptoms in different people. Sometimes only one eye loses vision while the other eye continues to see well for many years. The condition may be hardly noticeable in its early stages. But when both eyes are affected, reading and close up work can become difficult.
What can you or your loved one do if diagnosed with Macular Degeneration?
First it is important to modify those environmental risk factors that we know about.
- Detail a low-fat, low cholesterol diet.
- If you are post-menopausal, you should consult with your physician concerning estrogen replacement therapy. This may have a favorable impact upon cholesterol lipid levels that play a role in worsening the disease.
- Wear sunglasses with UV protection.
- Try to consume at least two servings of leafy dark green vegetables per day.
- Do not smoke and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Eat food and or supplements rich in vitamin E,C and Lutein. Lutein is a plant antioxidant found in high quantities in spinach, kale and other dark green, leafy vegetables.