Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is the alteration of the macula, the central area in the retina responsible for a sharp sight.
It affects people as young as 40 years old. By the age of 60, one in eight people deals with macular degeneration.
Causes and Risk Factors
The disease is related to aging factors, but research suggests that genetic inheritance plays a role, as well. In short, ARMD is caused by the abnormal activity of the blood vessels in the eye, which can start bleeding and affecting the macula more easily than in younger people.
The risk factors associated with macular degeneration imply the lifelong lifestyle habits of the patient, that have led to different conditions, such as:
1. Obesity and Lack of Activity
People who are overweight are at twice the risk of developing macular degeneration later in life. Obesity is furthermore linked to high cholesterol levels, which affects and puts strain on the blood vessels. On that account, hypertension is a high risk factor as well.
The toxins inhaled from a cigarette (and even from secondhand smoke) hinder the activity of the antioxidants, which have the role of cleaning up the waste buildup from the cells. When the antioxidants no longer get to clean the body, the toxic buildup starts affecting different systems of the body, leading to a faulty functioning of organs.
3. Light-Colored Eyes
Because macular degeneration affects mainly people with pale skin tone and light eye color, researchers consider that the extra pigment in darker eyes serves as an additional protective layer against intense light exposure.
4. Prolonged Exposure to the Sun
Even if there is no conclusive study, scientists believe that exposing yourself (and your eyes) to UV rays can lead to the deterioration of the macula over time. Don’t forget to wear your sunglasses!
What Types of Macular Degeneration Are There?
Mainly, there are two forms of ARMD:
- The dry type, which is held responsible for 80-90% of the cases and tends to progress slowly, and
- The wet type, which has an aggressive development and causes a severe rapid loss of central vision.
Although it occurs in both eyes, the progress can vary from one eye to another. Moreover, 10-20% of patients experience the dry type in the beginning, and later on, it progresses to the wet form.
Is There a Treatment for Macular Degeneration?
Since there is no dry macular degeneration treatment currently approved, the vision loss caused by the disease can only be slowed down. Regarding nutritional supplements, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) found that certain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants helped slow the progression of the disease. Also, healthy dietary habits have an essential role in sustaining the normal functions of the eyes and body.
Also, a diet rich in Omega-3 can render the blood vessels more elastic. This makes the veins less prone to breaking open and bleeding, reducing the effects of macular degeneration. Vitamins like C and E and the mineral zinc have proven beneficial to the blood flow, as well.
The newest FDA-approved drugs for wet macular degeneration are Eylea (back in 2011) and Lucentis (in 2006). Also, in 2010, the FDA approved an implantable device for the retina. It is designed to help those in the advanced stage of macular degeneration by reducing the size of the central blind spot.
For wet macular degeneration, the treatment may also include photodynamic therapy. This implies the patient receives an injection of Visudyne in one of his arms. The drug travels to the blood vessels in the eye and reacts to the light that is sent by a special laser. The vessels close, and the leakage stops, but the patient will need periodic treatment.
Living with Macular Degeneration
Since specialists still haven’t found the proper treatment for macular degeneration, preventing the disease and protecting your eyes are crucial to maximize your chances of maintaining your sharp vision.
If you’ve already been affected, try adapting your surroundings to your condition. You can use magnifiers and other low-vision gadgets and increase the size of the font at the PC you’re using most often. Ultimately, you can use electronic reading aids, which are activated by voice recognition.