Find out how to diagnose and treat both wet and dry macular degeneration.
Age-related Macular generation (AMD) is a progressive eye disease that affects around 10 million Americans. This condition is the most common cause of vision loss for people over 40 years old.
There are two types of macular degeneration: wet and dry. The two forms of the disease have distinct causes, symptoms, and treatments. Patients should understand both types of this condition to make informed choices about their eye health.
Macular degeneration is an eye disease that causes the deterioration of the macula - a central part of the retina, responsible for central vision. It helps the eyes notice fine details and allows us to read, recognize faces, and notice colors and contrasts.
During macular degeneration, cells in the macula deteriorate, leading to the gradual loss of central vision. When central vision deteriorates, patients have trouble seeing fine details from up close and afar.
Dry macular degeneration is the most common form of this disease. It refers to cases of macular degeneration that do not involve the leakage of blood or fluid. About 85-90% of people with the disorder have dry macular degeneration.
In dry macular degeneration, waste material gathers at the back of the eye and forms deposits called drusen. As drusen accumulates, the macula dries out and becomes thinner. Over time this leads to deterioration in the eye’s central vision.
In the early stages of the disease, there are often no noticeable symptoms. As it progresses, patients may notice mild symptoms like blurry central vision and trouble seeing in low light.
During later stages, patients may see straight lines as wavy or curvy. They will also start to notice a decline in their central vision, making it harder to see fine details and colors.
Wet macular degeneration is less common but faster moving and more dangerous than dry macular degeneration. Around 10-15% of AMD cases are wet.
Wet macular degeneration occurs when irregular blood vessels grow under the retina. These vessels often leak blood and fluid, which scar the macula, distorting the eye’s central vision.
The effects of wet macular degeneration are faster moving than those of dry macular degeneration. Patients may not notice anything is wrong until they start experiencing vision loss.
A patient with symptoms of wet macular degeneration may:
See straight lines as wavy or curvy
Notice a blurry area in their central vision
Have trouble seeing in dim lighting
Experience colors as dull or faded
The quick onset of these symptoms makes it especially important to have regular eye doctor visits as you get older.
There are a variety of factors that put someone at risk for macular degeneration.
Some patients ask: is macular degeneration hereditary? The answer is yes, there are things outside a patient's control - such as age and genetics - that play a role in the disorder. People over the age of 50 and with a family history of the disease are more likely to develop macular degeneration.
However, there are also lifestyle factors that put patients at risk. Some of these include:
Having a diet with high saturated fats (found in foods like meat, cheese, and butter)
High blood pressure
There are a number of ways an eye doctor can diagnose macular degeneration. These include:
Amsler Grid: A grid that helps patients notice distorted, blurry, or blank spots in their vision. Usually, the grid has a dot and black lines. The lines will appear wavy to people with macular degeneration.
Optical coherence tomography (OCT): A machine that scans the macula and retina to get a more detailed picture for diagnosis.
Fluorescein angiography: A special dye that is injected into a patient's veins and travels to their retina. A camera will take pictures of the retina as the dye moves through the blood vessels.
There are currently no treatments available for dry macular degeneration. However, the National Eye Institute (NEI) conducted studies that found certain patients could slow their dry AMD by taking the following vitamins and minerals daily:
Vitamin C (500 mg)
Vitamin E (400 IU)
Lutein (10 mg)
Zeaxanthin (2 mg)
Zinc (80 mg)
Copper (2 mg)
Talk to your eye doctor before beginning any treatment or supplementation plans for dry AMD.
There are several treatments available for wet macular degeneration that can reduce irregular blood vessels in the eye and slow down vision loss:
Anti-VEGF drugs: Can help reduce the number of abnormal blood vessels in the retina and slow down leakage. The medication is injected into the vitreous cavity in the eye.
Laser surgery: A surgeon will shine a laser at the abnormal blood vessels in the eye in order to slow their leaking.
While macular degeneration is in part hereditary, lifestyle choices also play a part in its onset. This means there are several things patients can do to reduce their chances of getting the disorder. These include:
Practicing a healthy diet
Maintaining an active lifestyle
Regular visits to the eye doctor
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