Macular degeneration is an eye disorder that damages the center of one’s retina (the macula), making it difficult to make out fine detail. This disorder is caused by either dry and brittle blood vessels under the macula or by wet, weak vessels growing beneath the older dry, brittle vessels. There is no cure for macular degeneration, but a healthy diet high in vitamin C, antioxidants and zinc slow the weakening of the blood vessels behind the macula.
Macular degeneration is a disease that everyone should be familiar with because it affects so many people. The more you know about your health, the better chance you have for early defection of disease and for effective treatments to be administered.
Macular degeneration is a disease that attacks the macula of the eye and results in the loss of central vision. Currently, macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in older adults, especially after the age of sixty. A couple of genetic forms also are known to onset in younger children and affect the patient throughout their lives. Research is still being conducted to determine if the age-related form is caused by environmental factors or if it is genetic.
The macula of the eye is located in the retina. The retina is made up of rods and cones, which allow people to see colors and make images. The macula is where the finest vision is located. The degeneration of the macula leads to the loss of central vision in the patient. This begins by the vision becoming blurry and straight lines (such as door frames or sentences in a newspaper) appearing wavy. In advanced cases the person will lose their central vision, resulting in large black areas appearing in the middle of the image they are viewing. You can think of this as putting a large black dot in the central of each of the lens of your glasses and then looking through them.
Blurry image seen by patients with macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration typically affects older people of about sixty-years old or older. However, cases have been identified in patients as young as in the forties. Best’s Vitelliform Macular Dystrophy is a genetic form that onsets in children of about four or five-years old. Stargardt’s Disease is another genetic form that affects patients in their teenage years. Research is still being conducted to determine if age-related macular degeneration is genetic or environmental.
Furthermore, there are two forms of macular degeneration, the wet form and the dry form. In the wet form fluid is leaked from blood vessels in the retina whereas this does not occur in the dry form. The wet form is typically considered to be a worse case for the patient.
Macular degeneration forming on the macula
Macular degeneration can progress in one or both eyes. Many people with genetic forms will experience the degeneration of only one retina, with the other eye compensating for the lost vision. The loss of vision will progress over a period of time as scarring occurs over the macula of the eye. This period of time can be as short as a couple of months or may take years. In advanced cases the patient will have difficulty distinguishing similar shades of color (black from navy blue, for example). Driving and reading of books or the newspaper will become difficult or impossible without aids. Many people eventually have limited drivers’ licenses or may lose the permission altogether.
Patients that have a genetic form like Best’s Vitelliform Macular Degeneration have a fifty percent chance of passing the disease on to each child they have (if their partner does not have the disease). This is called an autosomal dominant genetic disease and represents a good example of such a genetic situation. No children will be a carrier of the disease, so if it does not advance and the patient is determined to not have the gene, the individual will not have children with the disease.
At this time there is not a cure for macular degeneration, but there are treatments. New treatments in the past couple of years have helped new patients to keep the disease from advancing. An injection is given directly into the eye and keeps scarring from occurring on the macula. Also, some vitamins and diets have been suggested to slow the advancement of macular degeneration, especially in the age-related form. Furthermore, magnifiers and other visual disability aids are available to assist people with advanced cases. Many states and countries have organizations that aid persons with disabilities and a patient may be able to acquire assistance in purchasing aids or receiving training on how to live with reduced vision. For students, there are scholarships, books on tape, and many other accommodations (extended time on exams, print-outs of materials shown in class, etc.) that are available through your school or various organizations. Check on the Internet to find regional or national organizations.
Older people should visit their doctor regularly to check if macular degeneration is developing or advancing. If a genetic form is known in the family, future parents can consider genetic counseling to find out if they or their future children may have the disease. Catching the presence of the disease at an early stage will improve the chances for successful treatment and keeping the disease from advancing to detrimental stages. Research continues for macular degeneration and the future looks bright for the development of better treatments and perhaps even a cure.
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