What Is Macular Degeneration?

Behind the pupil, a lens refracts and focuses the light onto the retina, a light-sensitive nerve tissue at the back of your eyeball. These retinal cells convert the light into electrical signals sent to the brain through the optic nerve.

In the middle of the retina is a small, specialized area responsible for our focused central vision – the macula. The macula allows us to see fine details for reading, driving, recognizing faces, watching TV, or any task that requires straight-ahead vision.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is the deterioration of this central retinal area. It’s the leading cause of blindness in older adults, affecting more than 10 million Americans.

There are two types, commonly called dry and wet macular degeneration.

Dry macular degeneration (or atrophic form) is responsible for 90% of cases. It is characterized by the accumulation of protein and lipid deposits called drusen. These cause the macula to weaken and break down.

Symptoms of dry macular degeneration include:

  • blurriness
  • reduced central vision
  • distorted straight lines
  • trouble recognizing faces
  • trouble reading or seeing fine detail
  • reduced color perception

Wet macular degeneration (exudative neovascular form) involves the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina, which leak and damage the macula. In addition to the dry symptoms listed above, signs of wet macular degeneration include:

  • a blurry or dark spot in the center of your vision
  • hazy vision
  • rapidly worsening symptoms

Macular degeneration can occur in one eye or both, and the dry form may develop into the wet form.

Risk Factors of Macular Degeneration

The exact cause of macular degeneration is not known. However, some factors appear to increase your risk for developing this vision loss:

  • having a family history of macular degeneration
  • being over 55 years old
  • smoking
  • overweight and obesity
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • inadequate nutrition

Stopping smoking and managing your weight and nutrition can lower your risk for macular degeneration and help you manage early symptoms.

Prevention and Treatment?

There is no known cure for macular degeneration.

However, for the wet type of macular degeneration, drugs that stop the growth of new blood vessels (anti-vascular endothelial growth factor drugs) and laser therapies from closing leaking blood vessels or destroying abnormal vessels have shown success.

Due to the role of oxidative stress in the development and progression of macular degeneration, increased antioxidant intake has been proposed as a possible preventative intervention. This would involve eating more antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables or possibly supplementing.

Dietary antioxidants have not been demonstrated to provide a significant primary prevention effect but may be helpful for secondary prevention. This means that while antioxidants might not prevent macular degeneration from occurring, they could prevent it from getting worse.

If you are experiencing blurriness or vision loss, get yourself to a doctor soon to assess your diagnosis and discuss treatment options.