Macular Degeneration is a condition that involves the gradual loss of vision as a result of the aging process. Vision is impaired due to degeneration of a part of the retina called the macular, and specifically, it is central vision, or what you see directly ahead of you, that is affected, as opposed to peripheral or side vision.
As health facilities, conditions and lifestyles improve, the general or average life span has grown progressively older and with it has come the inevitable increase in ailments that afflict the elderly. As such diagnosis of macular degeneration has increased over the last three decades, increasing the need for analysis of what factors increase risk to this condition and what treatment options are actually available.
Macular Degeneration occurs in two forms, dry and wet, with the dry form caused by the breakdown of cells found in the macular section of the retina while the wet form is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina. Wet macular degeneration affects a lower percentage of the population in the United States (about 15%) but results in more significant visual loss in at lest 65% of the cases involved. The condition may occur in people that are not considered to be within the aging bracket due to genetic factors, but this is rare.
Diagnosis of macular degeneration includes but is not limited to the following: changes in pigmentation, the presence of drusen (tiny yellow or white amounts of extracellular matter), hemorrhages in the eye, blurred vision, loss of central vision, difficulty in discerning colour shades, and hypersensitivity to light.
One of the most significant testing methods for macular degeneration is the Amsler Grid Test, a simple and effective method where a patient looks at a black dot surrounded by a pattern of intersecting lines. Distortion of lines, bending or anything of such significance indicates early waring signs of macular degeneration.
Not everyone aging gets the condition of course. Age-related muscular degeneration afflicts about 1.75 million individuals in the United States, for instance. However, certain factors certainly make a person more likely to develop the condition.
These include: aging (10% of people between 66 and 75 suffer the condition, with this percentage increasing to about 30% after the age of 75); the presence of the macular degeneration gene, a family history of the problem, race (Caucasians having a higher incidence than the other races), high cholesterol levels or lifestyles hat include a high fat intake, smoking and hypertension. Women also seem to be at greater risk than men.
Treatment is available for this condition, though the wet form is harder to treat than the dry one. Lucentis and Aflibercept are the two most cited, while certain Omega 3 fatty acids reduce it’s onset.
The use of vitamins has had inconclusive results, with some studies reporting no improvements while one study supporting the belief that vitamin supplement intake actually helps, but while cautioning the possible side-effects for certain supplements.
Since peripheral vision is not affected, adaptive devices that enlarge reading material, like magnifying glasses, special eye glass lenses and the like can assist people living with the condition.