The eye is comparable to a camera, wherein the macula is the central area of the film. When functioning properly, the macula collects images at the field of vision and sends them through the optic nerve and then to the brain, which eventually interprets them as sight. When the macula deteriorates, images are not correctly received. Macular degeneration, in its early stages does not affect vision, but as it progresses, people experience blurry vision, which can eventually lead to a loss of central vision. People with advanced macular degeneration are legally blind. They still have peripheral vision, but it is not as clear as their central vision.
Types of Macular Degeneration
There are two types of macular degeneration: dry (atrophic) type, which is approximately 85% to 90% of cases, while the wet (exudative) type are 10-15% of cases. Stargardt disease is another form of macular degeneration experienced by young people, caused by a recessive gene.
Stages of Macular Degeneration
The three stages of Age-Related Macular Degeneration are as follows:
- Early AMD – In the early stages of AMD, vision loss is not experienced. It is important to have regular eye exams, especially if you have more than one risk factor. Drusen, which are medium-sized yellow deposits beneath the retina are seen in early AMD.
- Intermediate AMD – During this stage, some vision loss may be experienced, but noticeable symptoms may not be present. A more detailed eye exam can spot larger drusen and pigment changes in the retina.
- Late AMD – During this stage, vision loss is noticeable.
Causes of AMD
Although little is known about the factors that cause macular degeneration, we know that heredity and environment play a role. Scientists are searching to find out what causes the cells of the macula to deteriorate to find a treatment for macular degeneration. The causes for age-related macular degeneration involve genetic and environmental factors, while Stargardt disease has a genetic cause.
According to Dr. Carl Kupfer, the former Director of the National Eye Institute, states that as the Baby Boomers generation age, and without advances in prevention and treatment, the prevalence of AMD can reach epidemic proportions and affect 6.3 million Americans by 2030.
Age is the biggest risk factor for macular degeneration, increasing as you get older, and is most likely to be experienced by people aged 55 or older.
Some other risk factors include the following:
- Genetics – those with a family history of AMD have a higher risk
- Race – Caucasians have a higher risk of developing the disease than Hispanics/Latinos and African-Americans.
- Smoking- the risk of developing AMD doubles when you smoke.
Currently, there is no known cure for macular degeneration, but you can reduce your risk for developing this disease and slow its progression if you’ve been diagnosed.
Lifestyle changes such as exercise, dieting, avoiding smoking, and protecting your eyes from UV light can help reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration.
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Adapted from: Macular.org