The number of people affected by macular degenerationin the United States is approaching 2 million. It is the leading cause of legal blindness in people over the age of 55 in the U.S. The double whammy of an aging population and increases in life expectancy mean that the number of people suffering from this condition is expected to exceed 3 million by 2020. Consequently, macular degeneration is a significant health issue that must be effectively addressed. But what exactly is macular degeneration and how can it be treated?
Macular degeneration is a term used to describe a variety of prevalent conditions that affect the macula which is part of the retina of the eye. Macular degeneration may also be referred to as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD or ARMD).
The retina is the interior layer of the eye and comprises receptors and nerves that collect and relay light signals from the eye into the optic nerve. These signals are then sent to the brain for interpretation as our sense of vision.
The macula is located in the central part of the retina and consequently macular degeneration affects central vision rather than peripheral vision. It is responsible for giving detail and color to vision, and has a very specific purpose in the eye and the nervous system. If you have 20/20 vision, it is thanks to a healthy macula.
Having described a basic working and relationship between the macula and retina, macular degeneration is the result of deterioration of the retina.
Types of Macular Degeneration
There are two types of degeneration:
Dry (Atrophic) – results from the progressive deterioration of cells in the macula, resulting in a steady blurring of central vision. Yellow-white spots known as drusen are the telltale signs of this condition and are commonly visible in people over the age of 70. These spots do not necessarily affect vision. The main culprit responsible for the loss of vision in dry AMD is advanced dry macular degeneration (geographic atrophy), not drusen. Dry macular degeneration is the most common type of macular degeneration, affecting approximately 85% of sufferers, and is the usual starting point for macular degeneration.
Wet (Exudative or Neovascular) – this is where new blood vessels grow in an irregular manner under the center of the retina. These blood vessels adversely affect the retina, scarring it and compromising or ravaging central vision. Loss of vision often begins in one eye and will only disturb the other eye later. Vision loss often occurs quickly with wet type macular degeneration. Although wet macular degeneration only affects about 15% of those afflicted with macular degeneration, it accounts for almost 70% of those who suffer substantial loss of sight.
Causes of Macular Degeneration
There is no certain cause of macular degeneration with heredity being possibly the most important determinant. Environmental factors may also contribute.
Other factors with a proven causality to age-related macular degeneration include age (more common among the elderly), race (more common among whites), pigmentation (more common among lightly pigmented people), iris color (more common among people with a more lightly colored iris, gender (more common among women), smoking (more common among smokers), obesity (more common among the obese), sleep apnea (more common among those with sleep apnea), exposure to sunlight (more common among with extended exposure), medications (certain medications may predispose the user to macular degeneration), and high degrees of myopia (more common among those with high degrees of myopia).
Treating Macular Degeneration
Many of the causes of macular degeneration such as age, race, and pigmentation cannot be influenced; however, other factors such as smoking and obesity can be controlled.
In a study jointly conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NHS) and the National Eye Institute (NIH), the AREDS (Age Related Eye Disease Study), it was conclusively proven that people with at almost all stages of age related macular degeneration benefitted significantly in terms of both disease prevention and progression by taking dietary supplements. Recommended supplements include high doses of antioxidants and zinc. There is a plethora of antioxidants on the market and there are numerous forms of dietary sources of antioxidants such as blueberries, seeds, orange and yellow vegetables, citrus fruits, cherries, cauliflower, blackberries, broccoli, and nuts.
AREDS was the first study to confirm a direct linkage between the use of dietary supplements and their ability to influence the natural progression and complications of a disease state.
Injections, Photodynamic Therapy, or Surgery
Used for wet macular degeneration, Angiogenesis Inhibitor injections, Photodynamic Therapy injections, Laser Photocoagulation, and an Implantable Miniature Telescope have all been proven effective for minimizing the effects of wet macular generation.
Low Vision Aids
Those with advanced irreversible AMD may benefit from low vision aids such as talking watches, magnifiers for reading, specially designed glasses that incorporate telescopes for distance vision, and talking or large font computers.
Using Peripheral Vision
Even though people’s central vision is affected, use of their remaining peripheral vision should be encouraged.
Non-conventional, natural treatments such as acupuncture and acupressure have shown to offer benefits in treating macular generation.
Diagnosing Macular Degeneration as Early as Possible
The standardized Amsler Grid Test can be used to indicate macular problems or worsening of age-related macular degeneration.
There are numerous new treatments for macular generation that are being tested and developed. For example, Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Medical Center has developed a method for the mass cultivation of embryonic stem cells which could potentially have profound implications for the treatment of macular generation.
Something worth considering is where you receive treatment for macular generation. Countries such as Israel are at the cutting edge of medical developments, capabilities, and achievements, and it may well pay for you to consider traveling to another country for your macular treatment. For example, cancer treatment in Israel is as good as it gets yet is substantially cheaper than in other countries offering comparable treatment.
Age related macular generation is a problem that is not going to go away. On the contrary, it is a growing problem that requires constant vigilance. Although lifestyle changes may prevent or slow the onset of this disease, heredity is a dominant factor in its spread. There is no known cure and once eyesight is compromised, the impact is irreversible. Dietary supplements are a proven source in preventing the disease and should be considered by all those at risk as a preventative measure.
This is a guest post by Sharon R from Hadassah.org.il . If you are also interested to write for HealthResource4u, Please check our guest posting guidelines at write for us.