Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in Canada. Almost 2.5 million Canadians live with AMD, a degeneration of the macula, which is the part of the retina responsible for sharp vision. As the macula degenerates, sufferers see objects less clearly, making it difficult to do ordinary tasks like driving or reading. Here’s everything you need to know about macular degeneration:
What is the Macula?
The macula, a tiny but crucial part of the retina, is pivotal in clear, central vision. Composed of light-sensitive cells, it’s responsible for our ability to read, recognize faces, and see details. Macular degeneration, notably AMD, affects this, causing gradual loss of function.
This degeneration can manifest as difficulty distinguishing colours, blurring of vision, or the appearance of blind spots. Understanding the significance of the macula in visual perception highlights the urgency of timely diagnosis and treatment to preserve vision or slow its deterioration.
Wet vs. Dry Macular Degeneration
Dry macular degeneration (non-neovascular) is the most common form. Its emergence is often linked to the natural aging process, involving the slow thinning of macular tissues or the buildup of pigment deposits within the macula. Your eye doctor may diagnose the condition if yellow spots (drusen) accumulate in and around the macula.
Wet macular degeneration (neovascular) is a more serious and progressed form of the disease. This advanced stage is triggered by irregular blood vessel growth beneath the retina. These vessels are susceptible to leakage, flooding blood and subsequently damaging retinal cells. This leaking can lead to blind spots in your field of vision and will require prompt diagnoses and targeted interventions.
AMD is a gradual condition, with vision quality deteriorating over time. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the earlier treatment can begin to avoid further degeneration. Symptoms of macular degeneration include:
- A gradual loss of the ability to clearly make out objects
- A gradual loss of the ability to see and make out different colours
- Distortion and blurring of vision
- Darkness or a blind spot in the centre of the vision
- Straight lines appear distorted or wavy
- Difficulty adapting to low light
- Decreased sharpness of vision
- Increased sensitivity to glare
- Decreased depth perception
If you have any of these symptoms, visit your eye doctor immediately.
Macular degeneration is commonly associated with aging (hence the term age-related macular degeneration). Other causes may include:
- Genetics: If AMD runs in your family, you may have an increased risk of developing the condition. Understanding your family history is crucial for proactive eye care.
- Obesity: Research suggests a connection between obesity and an elevated risk of macular degeneration. Maintaining a healthy weight through balanced nutrition and regular exercise may play a protective role against the onset or progression of this condition.
- Inactivity: Regular physical activity not only supports overall health but may also contribute to reducing the risk of AMD. Incorporating exercise into your routine can have a positive impact on your eye health.
- Hypertension: High blood pressure is also associated with an increased risk of macular degeneration. Monitoring and managing blood pressure through lifestyle modifications and, if necessary, medications may contribute to preserving eye health.
- Smoking: Smoking is a well-established risk factor for AMD. The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke can accelerate the progression of degeneration. Quitting smoking is a crucial step in mitigating this risk and promoting overall eye health.
There is no cure for macular degeneration, but treatment of symptoms can help slow the pace of vision loss. Treatments depend on how advanced the condition is and whether you suffer from dry or wet macular degeneration. The first step is to visit your optometrist for professional guidance. Some treatment options may include:
- Anti-VEGF Injections (for Wet AMD): Injections that help inhibit the growth of new blood vessels, reducing leakage and preventing further damage.
- Photodynamic Therapy (PDT): A combination of light-activated drug and laser therapy, primarily used for certain cases of wet AMD to target abnormal blood vessels.
- Laser Therapy: Laser therapy, specifically focal laser treatment, is employed to seal leaking blood vessels in the retina. While less commonly used in a time of anti-VEGF treatments, it may still be considered in specific cases.
- Nutritional Changes: Certain vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper, lutein, and zeaxanthin, have shown promise in slowing the progression of AMD. Additionally, adopting a balanced omega-3 fatty acid-rich diet can help your eye health.
As you age, it’s essential to have routine eye exams to test for early signs of AMD. If you’re concerned you might have this condition or just need some peace of mind, visit us at Laurier Optical for a comprehensive eye exam today.