Macular Degeneration: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

July 7, 2017 - Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration (MD) is the gradual breakdown of the macula – the cells in the retina. As these cells deteriorate, you lose the center part of your vision. It can cause day-to-day activities that require clear vision to become difficult. In advanced cases, personal independence can become severely restricted, making it difficult to read, drive and recognize people. According to the National Eye Institute, macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss for people over the age of 50.

Risk factors

Risk factors associated with macular degeneration include:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Chronic systemic inflammation
  • Poor digestion
  • Diabetes
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Excessive UV light exposure

In addition, certain drugs can increase the risk of developing macular degeneration. These include:

  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS), such as Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Ketoprofen, Flurbiprofen, Naproxen Sodium, can cause retina and macular hemorrhages.
  • Photosensitizing drugs, such as Antihistamines, birth control pills, tranquilizers, sulfa drugs, and oral diabetic drugs, increase sensitivity to sunlight and can cause chemical modification of the eye tissue.
  • Clonidine (Catapres), is used to treat high blood pressure and can damage the macula.
  • Plaquenil, which is commonly prescribed for arthritis, has been found to cause permanent toxicity damage to the retina and macula.

In other words, macular degeneration becomes increasingly common as you age, but a healthy diet and exercise can help prevent the condition.

Dry Macular Degeneration and Wet Macular Degeneration

The two most common forms of macular degeneration are dry MD and wet MD.

Dry macular degeneration is caused by cell function decline in the center of the retina, resulting in blurred vision. Yellow deposits, called Drusen, appear in the macula. If the drusen continue to grow, it can cause tissue in the macula to become damaged and die.

Wet Macular degeneration is the growth of abnormal blood vessels behind the macula. These blood vessels then leak blood into the retina, causing vision to become fuzzy, hazy, and less distinct. If you are suffering from wet macular degeneration, straight lines may appear wavy, and you may start to develop blind spots.

Symptoms

Macular degeneration symptoms are similar for each type, and can include:

  • Shapes appear blurry, fuzzy, hazy in central vision
  • Colors appear dim, indistinct and faded
  • Difficulty reading
  • Blind spots
  • Trouble seeing in the dark
  • Straight lines look distorted or wavy

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, you should consult your doctor to determine if macular degeneration is causing the symptom, and how to slow or reverse further deterioration.

How to Test for Macular Degeneration

There are three tests that can be performed by a doctor to determine if you are suffering from macular degeneration.

Amsler Grid Test – The doctor will have you wear reading glasses and cover one eye, and focus on a dark dot in the center of a grid. If there are any curved or wavy lines you likely have Macular Degeneration.

Fluorescein Angiography  The doctor will inject a yellow dye into your body, typically through your arm. The dye will travel through your blood vessels, and a camera will take pictures of your retina as the dye passes through. These pictures will reveal if there are any abnormal blood vessels growing under the retina or macula.

Optical Coherence Tomography (OTC) – In this test, a machine scans the eye, providing detailed images of the retina and macula to identify any abnormalities.

Treatment

Macular degeneration is treated by damaging and destroying abnormal blood vessels in the eye. This can be done several different ways. One method involves injecting a drug, designed to stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels, directly into the macula. A second method involves laser eye therapy, where a doctor will treat the affected eye(s) with a high-energy laser light that can destroy abnormal blood vessels. The third commonly used method is called Photodynamic laser therapy and is a two-step treatment that involves a light-sensitive drug to stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels. First, the doctor injects a medication into the bloodstream, which is absorbed by the abnormal blood vessels in your eye. Then, the doctor shines a laser into the eye, activating the drug and damages the abnormal blood vessels.

Prevention

Because macular degeneration is so common, it is important to live a lifestyle that reduces the risk of developing the condition. Taking simple steps such as not smoking, limiting computer and phone usage, and wearing sunglasses outside can help prevent macular degeneration. Certain foods, such as GMOs, gluten, and carbohydrates can contribute to macular degeneration. Adding foods and nutrients to the diet that promote eye health, supplementation with glutathione spray, omega 3 fish oils, Vitamins D3 and C, and Zinc, can all help prevent macular degeneration from developing.