Medical science is a wonderful thing! It has made it possible for us to recover from, and lead a normal life after contracting, illnesses and conditions that, not long ago, would have left us incapacitated or dead!
In a way, science has made it possible for us to live beyond the age that our bodies were originally built to last. Beyond our warranty, so to speak.
Things start moving slower. Parts start breaking down. Our bones get creaky in the morning. We aren’t hearing the subtle nuances of our favorite Aerosmith records…
And, our eyes start having problems.
Those of us who have taken 40-or-so trips around the sun are pretty much aware of the need for glasses to make reading and computer work a little easier. Small print is suddenly getting smaller and fuzzier and our arms are not long enough to bring it into focus, anymore.
Once we pass 50, a new situation arises. The tissue and tiny components within the eye can begin “breaking down”. We develop cataracts. Our tears begin to dry up. And, we can develop Age-related Macular Degeneration or AMD.
The most common form is “dry” AMD. Generally, dry AMD progresses slowly and severe vision loss is a long time coming – if it ever comes. The “wet” form of AMD is much more critical, causes more serious effects and progresses much more quickly.
So what, exactly, is the macula?
The macula is a tiny – but very important – section of the back portion of the inside of your eye. Think of it as where the clearest part of an image develops on camera film. It is where the center of your vision is focused. It allows you to see what is directly in front of you. With a damaged macula, your central vision is lost.
Consider looking at a person’s face. With advanced AMD, that person’s features would be “missing”. Peripheral areas such as ears, hair and shoulders, may be visible but not clear. Advanced macular degeneration essentially robs us of our ability to perform daily tasks. Things that we take for granted.
And… what does that mean?
As mentioned earlier, dry AMD is slow-moving. There is a possibility that it will never get to the stage where it drastically limits your lifestyle. Wet AMD, however, is fast and furious. Its onset is usually sudden and the symptoms progress rapidly.
Macular degeneration is considered incurable. It cannot be completely reversed. With early detection, wet AMD can be treated and slowed often preserving your existing vision and, sometimes, recovering a portion of vision that has been lost.
What causes it?
No one knows exactly. By the nature of its name, it is age-related. The tissue changes. What we do know is that about 10-20 percent of those who have the dry form, will develop wet AMD.
What does “wet” mean?
In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels develop and break causing blood to leak into the surrounding tissue and encroach onto the macula. There are treatments available. From injections to laser photocoagulation – or “sealing” off the leaking vessels – there are ways of slowing it down. Safe to say that, whatever treatment your specialist chooses, the results are going to be better than leaving it untreated!
How do I keep this from happening to me??
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees! However, there are some steps that you can take to lower your risk. Other factors? They are like a roll of the dice.
Risk factors include:
Increased exposure to high-energy blue light – primarily from extended use of electronic devices and direct sunlight exposure – has also been shown to increase the risk of macular damage. Blue light filtering finishes on your glasses as well as quality sunglasses can help with this. We will address these issues at a later date.
But all is not lost! Science has discovered that there are things that we can do to reduce our risk. Some are obvious – manage your blood pressure, don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight.
A diet including orange fruits and vegetables, dark, leafy greens and fish rich in Omega fatty acids is a good start. Also, taking supplements high in lutein, zeaxanthin and the Omegas have all been shown to aid in keeping your eyes healthy.
And, of course, see Dr Kay and Dr Deweese regularly as well as at the earliest sign of any trouble! Early detection is extremely important in slowing the progression of AMD!
February is Age-related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month, but healthy eyes are a lifetime endeavor.