What is age related macular degeneration?
Age related macular degeneration (ARMD) is a gradual deterioration of the eye’s macula. The macula is the central portion of the retina (the photosensitive layer of cells in the back of the eye responsible for sight), which allows us to see fine details. Macular degeneration is caused by the formation of cellular deposits called drusen in the layers of the retina and, in some cases, the growth of leaky abnormal blood vessels. There are two forms of macular degeneration: dry and wet. Dry macular degeneration is the most common type (about 90% of cases) and is caused by the formation of drusen in the macula. It typically progresses slowly. Wet macular degeneration (about 10% of cases) is more detrimental to vision and is caused by the growth of leaky blood vessels under the retina.
Macular degeneration, or any damage to the macula, causes blurring of our central vision, needed to perform “straight-ahead” activities such as reading or driving. Symptoms include:
Macular degeneration does not typically affect your peripheral vision. For example, an individual with end-stage macular degeneration can see everyone in the room but can not make out the face of the person directly in front of them.
Risk Factors and Prevention
The biggest risk factors for developing macular degeneration in your lifetime are age, genetics, and oxidative stress. Most individuals are diagnosed with macular degeneration late in life. Caucasians (especially those with light skin and light-colored eyes) are at the highest risk for macular degeneration. Although there is little we can do about growing older or our genes, we can reduce our risk in other ways.
Oxidative stress is the development of small molecules called free radicals which can be harmful to every aspect of every cell in our body. This is thought to play a role in the development of macular degeneration. Smoking and sun exposure are some of the biggest causes of oxidative damage. As such, being a non-smoker and wearing UV protective eyewear can significantly reduce your risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
A healthy diet is extremely important in preventing ARMD. For example, antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress and the potential for retinal changes; think blueberries, green tea, and whole grains. Furthermore, nutrients like lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega 3 fatty acids are specifically protective of the macula; think orange and yellow vegetables like sweet potato and squash for foods high in lutein; dark leafy greens like spinach and kale for zeaxanthin; fish and nuts for omega three fatty acids.
The most important step to take in preventing macular degeneration, or any eye disease, is to get annual eye exams.
The treatment for macular degeneration can again be subdivided into dry and wet macular degeneration