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What Is Age-related Macular Degeneration?

Aug 21, 2008
Age-related macular degeneration refers to the deterioration of the tiny central portion of the retina, called the macula. It is the leading cause of severe loss of vision in people who are over the age of sixty.

The macula, a small eraser-sized portion of the retina, is the critical area of the eye. It comprises of a network of photoreceptors that enable you to do anything that requires precise and focused vision including reading, sewing, driving or watching television. The area of the eye surrounding the macula has a far lesser amount of photoreceptors and produces a much poorer image resolution. When macular degeneration occurs, this surrounding area continues to process images. However, these images are blurry and distorted and nothing like the crisp central images produced by macula.

Symptoms of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration typically does not have any symptoms in the early stages and often goes unrecognized until it progresses to the advanced stage and both eyes are affected. Distortion of straight lines as well as distortion of center of vision with the appearance of dark or white blurry areas is normally the first recognizable signs of macular degeneration. This may progress to changed or diminished color perception and to the gradual loss of central vision.

Causes of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Studies have failed to turn up any conclusive proof as to the causes of macular degeneration, but age and environmental factors appear to be two of the strongest contributory causes. The likelihood of developing macular degeneration appears to increase with age. Though macular degeneration occurs in all races, it is more common in white people.
Macular degeneration also appears to run in families, indicating that genetic factors also play a significant role in the onset of macular degeneration.

Some of the other causes of macular degeneration include:
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol level
  • High intake of saturated fat
  • Vascular disease
  • Smoking
  • Over-exposure to sunlight
The dry form of macular degeneration, in which tiny yellow deposits develop beneath the macula, is more common and indicates that there is a thinning and degeneration of the nerve tissue.

In the neovascular or wet form, abnormal blood vessels, which grow beneath the macula leak blood and fluid under and onto the retina causing the retinal cells to die and resulting in blank spots in the individual's field of vision. It is important to have regular consultations with the doctor if any of these external symptoms are present.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration Treatment

There is no absolute cure for age-related macular degeneration, but there are several treatment options available. Some of these include:

Laser therapy - the actively growing abnormal cells that are present during macular degeneration can be destroyed by high-energy laser light.

Vitamin supplements - Some patients suffering from intermediate to advanced dry, age-related macular degeneration showed signs of improvement after being administered beta-carotenes, Vitamins E, C, copper and zinc.

Photodynamic laser therapy - This two-step treatment, involves injecting the patient with a light-sensitive drug that is absorbed by the abnormal blood vessel. When a cold laser light is shone into the eye, the drug gets activated and destroys the abnormal blood vessels.

Retinal translocation - This surgical procedure destroys the abnormal blood vessels that lie directly beneath the central portion of the macula, making it impossible to use a laser.
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