[Health Notice] Common Signs Of Macular Degeneration

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Age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in the United States, affecting 11 million people [1]. This number is expected to double by 2050.

Worldwide, the number of people with macular degeneration was estimated to reach 196 million in 2020 and increase to 288 million by 2040.

A person undergoing an eye test.

Macular degeneration is the dominant cause of vision loss among seniors in Canada as well, affecting 1.4 million seniors [2]. In the UK, nearly 1.5 million people are estimated to have macular disease [3], of which 600,000 have macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration is thus a highly worrying eye condition. It isn’t preventable, unfortunately, but it can and should be detected and treated early. Regular eye checkups and tests may help you avoid dramatic vision loss.

Causes Of Macular Degeneration

It is unknown precisely what causes macular degeneration. However, a number of risk factors have been determined to impact the likelihood of the disease [4]:

  • Age. The risk of getting advanced macular degeneration is 2% for ages 50-59, and it goes as high as 30% for seniors aged over 75 [1].
  • Family history and genetics. Several genes have been associated with macular degeneration, meaning that it has a hereditary component.
  • Race. Caucasians suffer from macular degeneration the most.
  • Smoking. Smoking or regular exposure to smoke significantly increases the chance of macular degeneration.
  • Obesity. Obesity is thought to increase the chance that early or intermediate macular degeneration will progress into a more severe form.
  • Cardiovascular disease. Diseases related to the heart or blood vessels may increase the risk of macular degeneration.

Types Of Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration has two forms [5]:

  • Dry form. In the dry form, yellow deposits called drusen start accumulating in the macula. As drusen get bigger and more numerous, they may start significantly affecting your vision.
  • Wet form. In the wet form, blood vessels from underneath the macula start growing abnormally. These blood vessels may leak blood and fluid into the retina – a layer of tissue at the back of the eye that processes light.

Most people who develop macular degeneration have the dry form. However, in 10% of cases, the dry form progresses into the wet form.

Symptoms Of Macular Degeneration

The symptoms of dry macular degeneration include but are not limited to [5][6]:

  • Distortion of straight lines.
  • Reduction in central vision.
  • Need for brighter lighting.
  • Difficulty adapting to low light.
  • Overall blurry vision.
  • Trouble recognizing faces.

Aside from these, people with wet macular degeneration may have:

  • Hazy vision.
  • A blurry spot within the field of vision.
  • Blind spots and loss of central vision.
  • Rapid worsening of symptoms.

Macular degeneration may affect one or both of your eyes. In case only one eye is affected, the disease may be more difficult to notice because the healthy eye could compensate for the weak eye.

How Is Macular Degeneration Diagnosed?

An early diagnosis of macular degeneration may allow you to slow down the progress of the disease and dampen its negative impact on your daily life.

During a test for macular degeneration [7], your doctor will check your vision and examine your retina. The doctor will look for yellow drusen deposits under the retina.

You may also be asked to look at an Amsler grid, which is a pattern of checkerboard-like lines. If some lines appear wavy or are missing, you could have macular degeneration.

After these simple tests, your doctor may perform one of these two or both eye exams:

  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT). This method shows a magnified 3D image of your retina, allowing the doctor to identify distorted retinal layers.
  • Fluorescein angiography. Your doctor injects a fluorescent dye into a vein in your arm. Then, they take photos of the eye as the dye reaches it and flows through your retinal blood vessels. This method helps identify new or leaking vessels.

No matter how severe your condition is, it’s not to be diagnosed via Google or at home. If you notice vision deterioration, get in touch with a doctor right away.

How To Delay The Onset Of Macular Degeneration?

To hopefully reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration and delay its onset, do the following [4]:

  • Manage other medical conditions like cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure. These may contribute to the development of macular degeneration.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Include fish or other sources of omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. walnuts) in your diet.

Macular degeneration cannot be 100% prevented, but if you follow these simple tips, you should be able to reduce the probability of its occurrence.

If you do notice any of the symptoms we’ve listed earlier – such as blurry vision, wavy lines, or blind spots – call your doctor right away.

 

Sources:
  1. “Sources for Macular Degeneration: Facts & Figures”, BrightFocus Foundation, https://www.brightfocus.org/sources-macular-degeneration-facts-figures.
  2. “Age Related Macular Degeneration”, Fighting Blindness Canada, https://www.fightingblindness.ca/eye-diseases-pathways/age-related-macular-degeneration/.
  3. “Nearly 1.5m people in the UK are affected by macular disease”, Macular Society, https://www.macularsociety.org/about/media/news/nearly-15m-people-uk-are-affected-macular-disease/.
  4. “Dry macular degeneration”, Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-macular-degeneration/symptoms-causes/syc-20350375.
  5. “Age-Related Macular Degeneration”, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/macular-degeneration/age-related-macular-degeneration-overview.
  6. “Macular Degeneration”, Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/macular-degeneration.
  7. “Diagnosis of Age-Related Macular Degeneration”, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/macular-degeneration/age-related-macular-degeneration-diagnosis-tests.
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