Vision loss and blurry vision are common problems for several people. But sometimes, changes to your vision are a sign of something more than just a need for glasses. It can be a condition that causes significant changes and requires special attention – a condition such as macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blurry eyesight and vision loss. In America alone, more than 11 million people suffer from the effects of macular degeneration. And unfortunately, there’s no cure for this type of vision loss. It can occur at any time, although the risk of macular degeneration does increase as you get older.
That’s why it’s so important to know what macular degeneration is, and how this serious condition can first begin. If you are able to recognize the first signs, you’ll be able to better save or protect some of your vision if you’re diagnosed with this disease.
How Does Macular Degeneration Begin?
Macular degeneration starts directly in the eyes. As a condition that slowly deteriorates parts of the eye, which subtly begins and becomes more and more problematic as it continues.
The exact cause of macular degeneration is not known. There’s little information on how this condition begins. What experts know is that there can be several causes, including heredity and your environment.
In general, macular degeneration is centered in the retina. The retina is the back of the eye – the part that is liable for recording what we see and sending them along the optic nerve to the brain. Macular degeneration occurs in the macula, or the very center of the retina, which is responsible for the focus of the eyes. The macula is essential for reading, driving, and recognizing details.
And when the macula begins to deteriorate due to macular degeneration, your retina will have a hard time “seeing” the images correctly and those images won’t be received properly by the brain.
In the early stages of macular degeneration, vision often isn’t affected. In fact, you probably won’t even realize anything is changing in your eyes. But as the condition progresses, you’ll begin to notice changes. These changes can be blurred or wavy vision.
If macular degeneration reaches its final stage, you can lose most – or even all – of your vision. People with advanced macular degeneration are legally blind.
Certain Factors Could Increase Your Risk
Although no one knows exactly what causes macular degeneration, doctors know that certain factors play a role. Age is the number one factor – the risk of developing macular degeneration increases with age. And it’s most common in those age 50 and older.
Your genetics and family history may also play a role in your chances of developing the disease. If a member of your family has or had macular degeneration, you’ll have a higher risk yourself. Other vision problems may or may not play a role.
In addition, it is thought that race may increase your risk. Macular degeneration is much more common in Caucasians, and Caucasian individuals are more likely to develop this disease than African Americans or Hispanic and Latino individuals.
If you are worried about potential risk factors for macular degeneration, talk to your doctor. They will be able to assess your risk and your overall visual health.
Signs and Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
Because macular degeneration affects one of your most important senses, it may seem easy to detect. However, the early stages of this condition are literally very difficult to notice, and you could live with macular degeneration for some time before you spot any symptoms.
The early stages of macular degeneration are subtle. It’s common to not experience any symptoms. Generally, the first thing people notice is a change of some kind in their vision. This change can be gradual or sudden. And when this change happens, straight lines can begin to look blurred or distorted. The quality of your vision can also be noticeably different.
As macular degeneration progresses, changes in your vision may become more obvious or noticeable. Common symptoms include:
- Dark, blurry areas in your field of view.
- Whiteouts that appear in the center of your vision.
- A change in your ability to see colors.
If your vision changes, it’s important to consult your ophthalmologist. Regular vision checkups are essential to catching any problems early on, whether you have symptoms or not.
How Macular Degeneration is Treated
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for macular degeneration. This means that progressive vision loss will continue once you’ve been diagnosed with the condition.
However, there are ways to treat macular degeneration and possibly slow its progression. Treatment for this condition could extend your vision, and it may be able to prevent a severe loss of vision. That’s why it’s important to speak with your doctor about available treatment options as soon as you receive a diagnosis.
There are a number of different treatments that your doctor can try if you’re living with macular degeneration. Each of these treatments can help you manage the condition in a different way. These treatment options include:
- Anti-Angiogenic Drugs: These are medications injected into the eye. They can target blood vessels that may be causing macular degeneration, and in some cases, help patients regain their eyesight.
- Laser Therapy: In this treatment, high-energy lasers are directed into the eye to destroy abnormal blood vessels. This can help slow progression.
- Photodynamic Laser Therapy: This is a two-step treatment that uses lasers and medication to slow macular degeneration’s progression.
- Vitamins: Some vitamins or supplements can potentially be used to help fight vision loss associated with macular degeneration.
Make sure to speak with your doctor as soon as you get a diagnosis. Some treatment options work best for some individuals, but others may be suited for you.
Overall, macular degeneration is a difficult condition to live with. It can be frustrating – and scary – to think about losing your vision. But if you’re prepared to catch changes to your vision early on, you can work with your doctor to start treating whatever the cause may be.