There is much more to the eye than merely its pretty blue, green, grey or brown adorned with long luxurious lashes. The eye is a complex organ comprised of an inner layer that is called the retina which contains nerves that transmit messages to the brain by communicating sight. Behind the retina is the choroid which contains the blood supply with which to nourish the retina. When the retina becomes damaged and detached, a loss of vision occurs in the macula which is the center of the visual field and the area that provides detailed vision. Such a chronic condition is medically referred to as macular degeneration and its sufferers will lose the ability to read, to drive, to recognize faces and to perform detailed work while their peripheral vision will remains unaffected.
Macular degeneration occurs in two forms: the dry and the wet. In the dry or the nonexudative form of macular degeneration, fragments of dead cells (drusen) build up between the retina and the choroid while in the wet or the exudative form of macular degeneration blood vessels from the choroid grow out of control and then progress to bleeding, leaking and scarring. Although both the dry and the wet forms of macular degeneration ultimately result in retinal detachment and blindness, the wet form is the more serious of the two and, fortunately, the less common.
Whom Does Macular Degeneration Affect?
Among adults, macular degeneration is also known as age-related macular degeneration or (ARMD or AMD). ARMD most commonly occurs among aging adults and it is the leading cause of central vision (but never complete) blindness among men and women over fifty years of age.
Among children, macular degeneration is also known as juvenile macular degeneration or Stargardt’s disease (STGD). While the results of juvenile macular degeneration are quite similar to those of the dry or wet age-related macular degeneration, its cause is very much different — genetic mutation.
Macular degeneration, particularly the age-related dry form, progresses rather slowly and without any pain or drastic visual changes but the following are the subtle variations which will become more and more pronounced over time. These symptoms may be true for one eye while the other remains healthy for months or even years, or they may appear in both eyes simultaneously:
- The need for brighter lighting for reading or some other close activity such as sewing.
- Slow adaptability to low lighting.
- Blurriness of printed matter.
- Colors seem to fade and brightness to dull.
- Failure to recognize faces.
- Vision in general becomes more foggy.
- The appearance of a blurred or blind spot in the center of the visual field with fuzziness at its edges.
- The appearance of shadows.
- Distorted vision.
- Difficulty in distinguishing between light and dark shades or colors.
- Visual hallucinations begin when the loss of vision becomes more acute, and this condition is known as the Charles Bonnet syndrome.
Contributing Risk Factors
- Advanced age
- Family history
- Race. Macular degeneration is more prevalent in Caucasians than in any other race.
- Gender. Women are more apt to develop macular degeneration than are men.
- First and second-hand cigarette smoke doubles the risk of developing macular degeneration.
- Morbid obesity
- Light-colored eyes are more prone than are the darker ones.
- Poor nutrition
- Cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and coronary artery diseases.
Currently, there are no treatments for macular degeneration but studies have shown that high doses of antioxidants (Vitamins A, C and E and lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids) and zinc may stop the progression of early stages of the disorder in about 25 percent of patients. These same compounds can also serve to help prevent the development of macular degeneration.