7 Important Facts About Macular Degeneration

by Bethany
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Macular degeneration is a common eye disease that primarily affects seniors. Even though it can be diagnosed in people under the age of 40, it is considered an age-related condition. There are a number of known risk factors for developing macular degeneration besides aging including heredity, hypertension, sedentary lifestyle, and obesity. Recent research shows that diet and nutrition may also play a role in developing the disease. Many seniors experience some vision loss in their sixties and seventies and usually attribute it to a normal part of aging, but it is important to learn some basic facts about this condition.

Fortunately, there are some preventative steps seniors can take to reduce their risk of developing this debilitating disease. It is important to understand that there are usually no early symptoms to signal this condition. People may begin to experience a gradual worsening of vision that can occur in one or both eyes prior to onset of macular degeneration. Because this is an incurable eye disease, it is important for seniors to have an ocular examination at regular intervals. Most ophthalmologists recommend an examination every one or two years.

7 Important Facts About Macular Degeneration

Even if no symptoms are present, high-risk seniors should adhere to a stringent examination routine. It is important to report any vision problems immediately and seek medical help as needed. Learning to understand the most important facts about macular degeneration is a positive step in reducing the chance of developing this condition.

What Is Macular Degeneration?

An incurable eye condition occurs when the central portion of the retina begins to deteriorate, usually as a result of age. The retina is located on the inside back layer of the eye. Its primary function is to record images and send messages from the optic nerve to the brain. The central vision in the eye is controlled by the macula that is responsible for focusing everything the eye sees. It is required in order to be able to drive a car, see items in detail, recognize colors and people’s faces, and to have the ability to read. Everyday activities become more difficult.

Any task that requires sharp focus is affected. Vision becomes distorted with straight lines becoming curved and out of focus. Color appears dark and dull. The real threat with this condition is that advanced macular degeneration can cause complete vision loss. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of all vision loss. It is considered more serious than cataracts and even glaucoma. Most vision loss can be attributed to macular degeneration. It affects millions of Americans every year. Advanced macular degeneration can cause blood vessels to form scar tissue leading to permanent vision loss.

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Why Do Seniors Get Macular Degeneration?

It is still a mystery why some seniors develop macular degeneration when others do not. Research shows that there are specific factors that can cause this condition to occur. It is not known the exact cause of deterioration of cells in the macula, but scientists have found that age-related macular degeneration does have several risk factors. These factors may cause the condition to manifest itself in some individuals. They know that genetics, smoking, and even race play a role in the development. Poor diet and certain environmental factors are suspects along with the known risk factors. Having a close family member with the condition plays a key role. Those who smoke are at extremely high risk, as well as individuals with uncontrolled high blood pressure.

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What To Do If You Have Macular Degeneration

There is no cure for this condition, but the first step is to seek medical help by choosing from the many doctors who are trained to recognize and diagnose the condition. Schedule an appointment with a professional eye doctor as soon as symptoms appear. It is advisable to have regular ocular examinations prior to experiencing any symptoms. The eye doctor will need to determine the severity of the condition at the time of the visit in order to determine a plan of treatment. A complete medical history will be required and the doctor will need to know what limitations are being experienced. The doctor may recommend some helpful resources such as a visit to a vision rehabilitation center.

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Importance of Going to the Eye Doctor

Keeping appointments for regular ocular examinations with an eye doctor are important before any symptoms of the condition appear. If symptoms are already present, the eye doctor will determine the extent of the limitations caused by the condition and explain what is causing the loss of vision. The doctor will make personalized recommendations for improving quality of life when vision loss is an issue. The eye doctor can prescribe some optical devices such as magnifiers that will help with low-vision adaptation. The doctor needs to be kept informed of any changes that may occur such as double vision, sensitivity to light, or exaggerated distortion of vision. The professional will monitor any changes in the condition and make recommendations when necessary.

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Common Signs of Macular Degeneration

There are several signs to watch for in macular degeneration. Most people experience sudden blurred or hazy vision, seeing flashes of light in one or both eyes, halos may appear around lights at night, and there may be a change in the color of the iris or clarity of the cornea. It is common to experience blurred central vision where the center of the view looking straight ahead is blurry. The blurry part of the central vision appears to grow over time. Some people experience blank spots in the main line of vision. Reading and writing become extremely difficult and get worse over time even with magnification and more light.

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What Causes Macular Degeneration?

The exact causes of this debilitating condition are unknown in spite of extensive research. Many factors such as genetics and environment have been found to play a role in the development of the condition that causes loss of vision and affects everyday life for its sufferers. It is believed that age-related macular degeneration is a direct result of the breaking down of cells in the macula that occurs over time. More research is needed to determine if environmental factors such as pollution contributes to the development of this condition that results in vision loss in certain people.

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Living With Macular Degeneration

Doctors sometimes recommend working with a low-vision therapist to assist with learning how to adapt to a low-vision environment in daily activities. Successfully living with macular degeneration requires transitioning from using visual cues to utilizing other senses. It means using audio devices for listening to books, magazines, and newspapers on tape. Computers can be adapted for using screen-reader software. A cane or walker is a necessary tool for those with severe vision loss to help them navigate their environment more safely. Patience is important when adapting to the new reality of low-vision. Understanding that it takes time to make the transition saves a lot of anxiety. It is important to be be willing to ask for help when it is needed. It is still possible to remain independent and still accept assistance.