Macular degeneration, or MD, is a progressive eye disease that affects over 15 million Americans. The disease attacks the macula, which is the object in the eyeball where the sharpest central vision occurs. Our macula helps us to read, recognize faces, drive, and perform simple daily activities. MD doesn’t cause total blindness, butcentral blindness is complete. Vision around the periphery is unaffected, leaving only black holes at the center field of vision.
MD is high on the list among many diseases that lead to severe vision loss and blindness, affecting mostly people older than 60. And it only escalates with age. One person in three develops signs of MD, and over 200,000 new cases are diagnosed in America every year.
Because macular degeneration destroys the central vision, contrasts are more difficult to see. It can also change the way a person sees color. Since peripheral vision is not impacted, assistive devices and vision rehabilitation can help people use what vision they have left more effectively. The impact of this disease can be devastating, though, for people who were active prior to the onset of vision loss. Their vision is diminished to a blur, making ordinary activities challenging. The extent of loss depends on the type of MD – dry or wet.
Dry MD affects vision less severely than wet MD. The main characteristic of dry MD is the accumulation of fat-containing deposits in a layer of cells beneath the retina. The origin is still unknown, but it causes progressive degeneration of the cells. Reduction of vision from this type of MD occurs gradually and vision may be stable between several eye examinations. People with dry MD may not have total vision loss, but can’t perform tasks that require focused vision.Although there is no therapy to treat dry MD it is possible to slow it down.
Wet MDoccurs when blood vessels grow beneath the macula and leak fluid into it, damaging the cells. Wet MD progresses rapidly and can cause a total loss of central vision.
Is it possible to reduce the risk of MD?
It’s still unknown what causes the processes of the condition, so it’s not always possible to prevent the disease. The risks of developing MD are linked to your family and age. If your relatives have the disease, you’re in the risk group. However, it’s possible to prevent MD from getting worse by:
- Eating a healthy diet that includes vegetables and fruit.
- Notsmoking or quitting.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Limiting the consumption of alcohol.
- Wearing UV-absorbing glasses.
Even though MD usually affects people older than 60, younger people can also be affected. This is known as juvenile macular degeneration. It can develop later or even be present at birth, but almost always is caused by genetic disorders.