What Is Macular Degeneration?

Learn about the symptoms, treatment, and prevention.

If you've noticed a sudden, gradual, or progressive decrease in your central vision (the part you see when you look straight ahead) and are over 45 years of age, then the chances are that you have some form of macular degeneration.

This article will examine the most common causes and types of macular degeneration and offer readers ways to slow down this emerging sight-threatening condition.

What Is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a disease that affects the macula, the central part of the retina. About 11 million people in the US currently experience some form of age-related macular degeneration. It's not just one disease, but an umbrella term for two main types of macular degeneration:

Dry Macular Degeneration
This type causes blurred vision and loss of central vision (the ability to see straight ahead).

Wet Macular Degeneration
In this type, abnormal blood vessels grow beneath the retina and leak fluid or bleeding into it.

These two forms of macular degeneration are different, but they have many similarities. Both types can cause a loss of central vision and affect your ability to see objects clearly in the center of your field of vision — such as reading, recognizing faces, or driving from one place to another.
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration

The most common signs of macular degeneration are:

- Blurred vision
- Tunnel vision (seeing objects in the distance as if looking through a straw)
- Distorted vision (straight lines appear wavy)
- Wavy or distorted straight lines
- Decreased color vision

Causes of Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration results from damage to the photoreceptors and their supporting structures. It is the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50. It affects people from all walks of life, and is especially prevalent among those with family histories of this disease.

There are two main types of macular degeneration:
- Dry (non-exudative) macular degeneration accounts for about 90 percent of all cases and has no symptoms until it's in its advanced stages. It's caused by a gradual breakdown of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells and is often associated with aging.

- Wet (exudative) macular degeneration accounts for about 10 percent of all cases and has symptoms at an early stage. It's characterized by abnormal blood vessels leaking fluid or blood under the surface of the retina and causing scarring that can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated.

Macular degeneration can progress to complete blindness if it's not treated. While there is no cure, there are treatments available that may slow down or prevent further loss of vision.

How to Treat Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is not curable, but there are treatments that can slow its progression. The most common treatments include:

Laser Photocoagulation
In this procedure, a doctor uses a laser to burn away abnormal blood vessels under the retina. The goal is to stop bleeding and prevent abnormal vessels from growing into the area where vision is lost. Laser photocoagulation works best on wet (exudative) AMD and may be used with other treatments for dry (atrophic) AMD.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
In this procedure, an eye doctor gives you medication that makes abnormal blood vessels more visible under an infrared light source. Then he or she shines a laser directly onto those vessels, destroying them.

VEGF Inhibitors for AMD
There are two types of VEGF inhibitors: bevacizumab and ranibizumab. Bevacizumab is also referred to as Avastin and works by blocking the effects of VEGF, which helps stop new blood vessel growth in the retina. Ranibizumab is also known as Lucentis and works by targeting the VEGF receptor 1 (VEGFR1).

Both drugs have proven effective in treating wet AMD, but there are some important differences between them. The most significant difference is that bevacizumab is administered intravenously while ranibizumab is administered intravitreally.

How to Prevent Macular Degeneration?

The good news is that there are several things you can do to prevent macular degeneration from happening to you or someone you love. Taking the following simple steps will help reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration:

- Don't smoke
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fish
- Wear sunglasses
- Get regular eye exams
- Follow instructions for any eye drops prescribed by your doctor

With these prevention tips, you can slow or stop this vision loss from happening. You may also be able to prevent other serious medical conditions that can cause macular degeneration, such as heart disease or diabetes.

If you suffer from AMD, then we urge you to contact CV Optometry for a consultation. Our dedicated team will personally walk you through all of your treatment options, answer all of your questions, and create a treatment plan that is right for you. The results could be life changing!