Macular degeneration, often referred to as AMD or Age-related Macular degeneration is something that starts to happen to many adults as they head towards age 60. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s something you have to accept as a regular part of aging.
While there are no sure-fire cures for the condition, there are preventative measures you can take and ways to try to help press pause on the condition once it’s already underway.
However, if you are having any of the following symptoms, be sure to schedule an eye appointment immediately. If you are over 50 they could very possibly be signs of Macular degeneration and early diagnosis is essential for effective treatment.
- Blurred central vision
- An increasing central blind spot or other blank spots in your vision
- Unusual sensitivity to light
- Trouble recognizing faces, reading or focusing on details
- Straight lines appearing wavy, distorted or askew
- Loss of colour perception
Now, before we begin with the general wellness strategies to help keep macular degeneration at bay, let’s start with a quick walk through of what exactly it is and what problems it can cause.
At it’s very simplest, macular degeneration occurs when the small central portion of the retina, known as the macula, deteriorates. The retina is the light-sensing nerve tissue at the back of the eye, much like the film in a camera. Any deterioration of this tissue is going to mean a decreased sensitivity to light and as such, less information coming in for the brain to transfer into imagery. The good news is that macular degeneration doesn’t always progress to blindness, but that doesn’t mean it can’t significantly affect the quality of your life.
There are two general types of Macular degeneration, both affecting the macula in slightly different ways. They are known as the Dry and the Wet forms.
The Dry form (non-neovascular): Cells beneath the retina begin to thin and age and little yellow deposits, called “drusen” start to accumulate. As they increase in number, they can lead to a dimming or distortion of your overall vision. However, most people tend to notice it first in their ability to read. The “dry” type usually advances relatively slowly but can be unpredictable and even transition into the wet form if not addressed quickly.
The “Wet” form (neovascular): A collection of abnormal blood vessels grow beneath the retina, which causes blood and fluid to leak into the retina, damaging macular cells. This often causes distortion of your vision and makes straight lines appear wavy, as well as creating blind spots and a loss of central vision. Wet Macular degeneration can occur suddenly and can very quickly lead to significant sight loss if left untreated.
So What Exactly Can Be Done to Help Prevent Macular Degeneration
Eat Plenty of Greens
This is just good advice for an all-around healthy lifestyle. However, studies are showing that dark leafy vegetables rich in carotenoids (i.e., raw spinach, kale, and collard greens) actually help the body ward of Macular Degeneration. Researchers at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary found that people who ingested the most vegetables rich in carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) had a 43 percent lower risk of Macular Degeneration than those who ate these foods the least.
Eat More Fish
Every time you turn around some healthcare professional is telling you to eat more fish. And, this time is no different. Fish containing high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to have positive effects on overall human health in a variety of ways and it would seem this holds true for the health of your eyes.
A study at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary revealed that older men with the highest levels of fish consumption (greater than two servings weekly) were 45 percent less likely to have Macular degeneration than those who ate the least amount of fish (less than one serving weekly). So maybe move that next scheduled lunch meeting to a sushi restaurant!
Eating Fruits and Nuts Daily
Often counted among the “Superfoods” fruits and nuts may also be helping keep Macular degeneration at bay in their own way.
A Harvard Medical School study, in 2004, showed that people who had three or more servings of fruit daily had a substantially lower risk of “wet” or advanced Macular degeneration. And, another study out the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary found that eating nuts helped prevent progression of early or intermediate Macular degeneration.
Get More Exercise
The truth of the matter is that regular exercise is one of the keys to keeping your body functioning in good order. A study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, looking at 4,000 people ages 43 to 86 for 15 years found that people who led an active lifestyle were 70 percent less likely to have Macular degeneration develop during the follow-up period. Participants must have walked at least two miles a day, three times weekly, or the equivalent to have been included in the “active” group for this study.
Try an AREDS Nutritional Supplement (Age-related Eye Disease Study)
The National Eye Institute undertook two studies that are commonly referred to as AREDS1 and 2. They were looking to learn more about macular degeneration and cataract, two leading causes of vision loss in older adults. The first study was undertaken in 2001 with a follow up concluded in 2013. Their research revealed patients at high-risk of progressive Macular degeneration who took the daily antioxidant and zinc supplement had up to a 25 percent reduced risk of their macular degeneration progressing to an advanced stage (depending on the degree of Macular degeneration present at the start of the trial), compared to participants who took a daily placebo pill.
Since then many patients have been finding success taking a single supplement formulated around AREDS2 cocktail.
AREDS2 supplements contain:
- Lutein: 10 mg.
- Zeaxanthin: 2 mg.
- Vitamin C: 500 mg.
- Vitamin E: 400 IU.
- Zinc oxide: 25-80 mg.
- Copper added in small amounts to prevent Zinc-induced anemia.
Ask your eye doctor for more details about the AREDS studies and which supplement might be right for you.
In consultation with your eye doctor, you may determine that the time for preventative measures has passed and it’s time for greater medical intervention. This can take on many different forms depending on how far along the Macular deterioration has advanced and what your eye doctor determines is best for your situation.
One such intervention is anti-angiogenic drugs. These medications are injected into your eye by your doctor. They stop new blood vessels from forming and prevent leaking from the abnormal vessels that cause wet macular degeneration.
For some patients, these drugs have been able to assist them in regaining the vision that they lost from Macular degeneration. The treatment will likely need to be repeated on several follow-up visits for a lasting effect.
Another medical treatment option is laser therapy. This procedure uses a high-energy laser light that can sometimes destroy actively growing abnormal blood vessels resulting from the wet form Macular degeneration.
A slightly different variation on this last option is Photodynamic laser therapy. This two-step treatment uses a light-sensitive drug that gets absorbed by the abnormal blood vessels.
Next, a laser is focused into the eye to activate the drug, which begins to cause the abnormal blood vessels to deteriorate.
Experimental Options of the Future
As with all medical procedures, there is always progress being made to better help future generations suffering from similar ailments. When it comes to Macular Degeneration, several methods are currently being tested that we are keeping an eye on.
This is a procedure where a surgeon removes your abnormal blood vessels, scar tissue, or blood. Approximately 30% to 35% of patients have experienced increased vision, and researchers confirmed that visual function was possible in an area where there had previously been abnormal blood vessels. More studies are currently underway.
This procedure uses a laser to destroy the abnormal blood vessels in your eye directly under the center of your macula. For this procedure, the doctor rotates the macular center away from the abnormal blood vessels. The laser process can only begin once the macular center is out of danger. In many studies, retinal folds have presented a complication. However, continued refinement has been yielding considerably improved results.
The Best thing to do about Macular Degeneration
Keep your eye doctor up to date regarding any changes in your vision. Don’t assume that if it seems minor that it’s not important. As with so many health-related issues, the earlier your doctor knows about it, the more options are available to assist in the treatment. In many cases, less invasive options.
As you get towards middle-age, be sure you’re still getting enough exercise and start to shift your diet away from processed foods and towards including more of the natural options listed above.
With good health and regular medical checkups, you can feel confident your eyes will stay strong all the way through your golden years!