As we age, the risk of developing diseases usually increases. When dealing with the health of the eye, one age related disease is macular degeneration (MD).
Macular degeneration is the progressive damage of the macula. The macula is an extremely sensitive portion of the retina (inner layer of the eyeball) that is responsible for our central vision.
Since MD does not affect side vision, it does not lead to total blindness. People in their forties and fifties can get MD, however it typically afflicts people over the age of 65. It is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over age 65.
Some of the risk factors of macular degeneration include: family history, smoking, high blood pressure and poor nutrition. There are two types of macular degeneration: dry MD and wet MD.
Dry MD is less severe of the two types. In this type, the blood vessels and support cells under the macula break down resulting in macular damage. Symptoms of dry MD may include: fuzziness of central vision, the need for increased lighting to read, distortion of objects, or the development of a central vision blind spot. These symptoms tend to appear gradually.
Wet MD is more severe than dry MD. In this type, there is an abnormal growth of blood vessels underneath the macula. These blood vessels are extremely porous causing blood and fluid to leak under the macula. As this blood and fluid collects, scar tissue develops which causes significant damage to the macula. Symptoms of wet MD are the same as that of dry MD however they tend to occur more rapidly and more severely.
There is no cure or treatment for dry MD at this time. However, a study released in the fall of 2002 found that there is a way to slow the progression of dry MD. The Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) was a seven year, multi-center study that followed over 4,000 patients with all forms of dry MD. They concluded that high levels of antioxidants and zinc can slow the progression of dry MD. The formulation used in the study consisted of vitamins A, C, E, zinc and copper. These supplements are commercially available in over-the-counter multi-vitamin forms. Consult with your optometrist, ophthalmologist or pharmacist regarding which type of multi-vitamin therapy is appropriate for you.
Wet MD has proven to be extremely difficult to treat. The traditional treatment has primarily used lasers to absorb the blood and fluid that collects under the macula. The problem with this has been that the laser can cause damage to the retina itself. Recently a new therapy has been introduced called photodynamic therapy (PDT). With PDT, a light sensitive drug called Visudyne is injected into the bloodstream where it travels to the blood vessels of the macula. The ophthalmologist then applies ultraviolet light to the eye detecting the early signs of MD and hopefully retard the progression which stimulates the drug to form blood clots to seal the abnormal blood vessels. The goal of this therapy is not to restore vision but merely to slow the progression of wet MD.
It is important to remember that macular degeneration does not cause total blindness. Regular eye examinations with your optometrist or ophthalmologist are critical to of the disease.