Macular degeneration is the gradual loss of vision in the central visual field due to the breakdown of cells that make up the macula. The macula is a small area at the center of your retina that is responsible for clear vision, particularly in your direct line of sight. Macular degeneration is the major cause of visual impairment in adults above 50 years old.
There are two types of macular degeneration: dry and wet. The less severe type, dry macular degeneration, occurs when the retinal pigment epithelial layer under the retina wastes away, which results in loss of vision through the loss of photoreceptors (rods and cones) in the central part of the eye. Cellular debris called drusen, accumulates in the eye. Drusen is the key to identifying the dry type.
Wet macular degeneration is the more severe type of MD. It occurs when there is an abnormal growth of blood vessels which leads to the loss of vision. Wet macular degeneration usually progresses from the dry type. However, only 10% of patients with macular degeneration have the wet type.
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration symptoms develop gradually. The condition may affect one eye or both eyes. This condition is not painful at all and this condition may be undiagnosed for some time. If only one eye is affected, visual changes are unnoticeable because the good eye compensates for the weak one.
- You need more bright light when you read or work with objects that you need to look at close range.
- Your eyes find it more and more difficult to adjust to low light levels.
- Your overall vision is becoming increasingly hazy.
- There is a blind spot or a distortion at the center of your visual field.
- Colors become less intense and bright.
- Straight lines appear to be distorted.
- Printed words become increasingly blurred.
- You find it hard to recognize faces.
What Causes Macular Degeneration?
The exact cause of macular degeneration is unknown, but there are factors that put you at risk for the condition. The following is a list of predisposing factors for macular degeneration:
- Age: Macular degeneration mostly affects people over the age of 50. The older you are, the higher your risk for MD.
- Gender: Women are at a higher risk than men for MD.
- Heredity: If one of your family members had macular degeneration, you are more likely to develop MD.
- Race: Macular degeneration affects more Caucasians than people of other races.
- Diet: If you do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, you are putting yourself at a greater risk for MD.
Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, hypertension, elevated blood cholesterol level and early menopause.
What to Do When You Have Macular Degeneration
You should immediately let your ophthalmologist know when you notice any changes in your vision especially when these changes are consistent with the symptoms of MD. Unfortunately, there is no treatment available to reverse MD. Treatment only delays visual deterioration. It cannot restore vision. However, MD often progresses slowly. Annual eye exams may be necessary to see how the condition is progressing.
You may also have to make some dietary changes. Including fruits and vegetables in your diet will contribute to your eye health. Colorful fruits and vegetables have antioxidants that prevent cell damage. Healthy unsaturated fats, such as olive and palm oil, may reduce the risk of vision loss. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna may help protect your eyesight. Be sure to avoid smoking and manage your weight by eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise.
Aids For Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is not life-threatening. However, it does threaten to reduce your quality of life. This condition affects your central vision which you need for common daily tasks such as reading and driving. Fortunately, there are some vision aids for macular degeneration that can help you function to the best of your ability and maintain your independence. Here are some aids for Macular Degeneration that can help improve your quality of life:
- Macular Degeneration Magnifiers – As macular degeneration progresses, the need for magnification increases. When choosing a magnifier, you need to choose the right power for your eyesight and consider the tasks that you need to do. The focal length is also important. Remember, the closer the magnifier is to the object, the greater the magnification. Magnifiers come in different types such as pocket magnifiers, reading magnifiers, 5 diopter floor lamp magnifiers, electronic magnifiers and many more.
- JORDY glasses (Joint Optic Reflective Display) – JORDY glasses are goggles that allow you to see at any distance and in any visual conditions. These glasses can magnify up to 50 times the original size.
- Low Vision Lighting – The lighting needs also increase as macular degeneration progresses. That means you will need more lamps and brighter bulbs at home. However, the light from a standard light bulb is usually not bright enough to help you see objects in clearer detail. Luckily, there are types of lighting that are well-suited for patients with MD.
- One type of lighting that works best with patients with macular degeneration is Ott lighting. Ott lighting simulates natural light, enhances contrast and reduces glare helping you see things more clearly. Aside from Ott lighting, you can also use an LED Magnifying Lamps. This lamp increases your area of vision and gives you the brightness and magnification that you need.
- Computer Screen Magnifier – Computer magnifiers are easy to attach to your computer screen. They usually offer features such as full screen magnification and anti-reflective coating for sharper images. It is a must if you do not want to give up using your computer and surfing the Internet despite having MD.
- Low Vision CCTV (closed circuit television) – Low Vision CCTV is a device that uses a camera and a monitor to magnify objects. This is for people who have moderate to severe vision loss. To use this device, you place the object under the camera and view it on the screen at a desired level of magnification. Some low vision CCTVs even have mirrors so you can shave better or put on your makeup without any problem at all.
- Electronic reading devices – When you suffer from MD, it does not mean that you have to give up reading the books you love or to miss out on the new bestsellers from your favorite authors. There are reading devices that scan printed text and convert it to speech.
- Amazon Kindle is a good electronic reading device for those who suffer from MD. Not only does the Kindle offer a text-to-speech conversion feature, it also offers options for font magnification and contrast. The screen rotates to landscape. It is portable, light weight and easy to use.
Macular degeneration is a progressive, irreversible loss of vision that could lead to blindness. However, you need not despair if you suffer from MD. There are treatments that can significantly slow down the deterioration of your eyesight. With dietary and lifestyle adjustments and with the right vision aids for macular degeneration, it is possible for you to live a relatively normal and productive life.