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Macular degeneration
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Macular degeneration

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Macular degeneration is a leading cause of blindness. Age-related macular degeneration is a chronic eye disease that occurs when tissue in the macula, the part of your retina that's responsible for central vision, deteriorates. The retina is the layer of tissue on the inside back wall of your eyeball. Degeneration of the macula results in blurred central vision or a blind spot in the center of your visual field.

The first sign of macular degeneration may be a need for more light when you do close-up work. Fine newsprint may become harder to read and street signs more difficult to recognize. Eventually you may notice that when you're looking at an object, what should be a smooth, straight line appears distorted or crooked. Gray or blank spots may mask the center of your visual field. The condition may progress rapidly, leading to severe vision loss in one or both eyes.

Macular degeneration affects your central vision, but not your peripheral vision; thus it doesn't cause total blindness. Still, the loss of clear central vision - critical for reading, driving, recognizing people's faces and doing detail work - greatly affects your quality of life. In most cases the damage caused by macular degeneration can't be reversed, but early detection may help reduce the extent of vision loss.

Prevention

Nothing you do can change your race or genetic makeup or keep you from getting older — all major risk factors for macular degeneration. But preliminary evidence suggests that any of the following measures may help prevent or delay the development of macular degeneration. These measures are best started before macular degeneration develops and your vision starts to decrease:

  • Eat foods containing antioxidants. People at high risk of the advanced stages of macular degeneration may be able to lower that risk with a dietary supplement of antioxidants, zinc and copper. Antioxidants are substances that prevent oxidative damage to tissue such as the retina. Foods with antioxidants are those rich in vitamins A, C and E. And it helps to eat a nutritionally balanced, low-fat diet containing five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. The antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin are nutrients found in high concentrations in egg yolk, corn and spinach. Preliminary studies show that high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in your blood may protect your retina.

  • Wear sunglasses that block out harmful ultraviolet light. Orange-, yellow- or amber-tinted lenses can filter out both ultraviolet light and blue light that may damage your retina.

  • Stop smoking. Smokers are two to three times more likely to develop macular degeneration than are nonsmokers. Ask your doctor for help to stop smoking.

  • Manage your other diseases. For example, if you have cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, take your medication and follow your doctor's instructions for controlling the condition. If it's not well controlled, it may contribute to the onset of macular degeneration.

  • Get regular eye exams. Early detection of macular degeneration increases your chances of preventing serious vision loss. If you're over the age of 50, get an exam every 2 to 5 years. If you have a family history of macular degeneration, have your eyes examined more frequently, perhaps annually.

  • Screen your vision regularly. If you've received a diagnosis of early-stage macular degeneration, your doctor may suggest that you regularly monitor your vision at home with an Amsler grid. Doing so may help you to detect subtle changes in your vision at the earliest possible time and seek help promptly.

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  • If you have some vision loss owing to macular degeneration, your eye doctor can prescribe optical devices called low-vision aids that will help you see better for close-up work. Or your doctor may refer you to a low-vision specialist. In addition, a wide variety of support services and rehabilitation programs are available that may help you adjust your lifestyle.

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