Macular degeneration occurs when the macula — the central part of the retina that ensures that our vision is clear and sharp — starts to fail, causing a loss of central vision. When central vision is lost, you cannot see fine details whether they are close or far away from you. It can be quite debilitating, as central vision is needed to see faces, to read and to drive. One does not go blind as peripheral vision will remain intact, which means that vision on the sides will be normal.
Risk factors for macular degeneration include diets that are high in saturated fat, being overweight, cigarette smoking, hypertension (high blood pressure), age over 50, and a family history of AMD. Having a heart disease associated with high cholesterol is another risk factor, as well as being Caucasian.
- A gradual loss of ability to see objects clearly
- A gradual loss of color vision
- Distorted vision
- A dark or empty area appearing in the center of vision
There are two types of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD):
Dry AMD is a common type of Macular Degeneration that occurs in approximately 80% of people who have AMD. This type of AMD occurs when parts of the macula in the eye become thinner with age, resulting in small masses called drusen to grow on the retinal pigment epithelium, the layer under the retina. Drusen are yellow deposits under the retina that are composed of lipids and proteins. When the clumps of drusen start to grow, it leads to a slow loss of central vision. Drusen occurs naturally with age. It does not cause AMD, however having it increases your risk of developing AMD. There is no treatment for dry AMD.
Wet AMD is an uncommon type of AMD, however, it is much more serious. Wet AMD occurs when new abnormal blood vessels grow under the retinal layer of the eye. These blood vessels can leak blood and/or other fluids which causes the macula to scar. The scarring will lead to vision loss that is much faster than the rate of dry AMD. To treat wet AMD, there is a drug that can be injected into the eye to reduce the number of abnormal blood vessels in the retina, as well as slowing any leakage from the blood vessels. Laser surgery may also be used to treat wet AMD.
AREDS 2 (Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2) was an extensive research study that investigated the effects of taking vitamins and minerals daily for AMD. The study’s conclusion was that certain nutritional supplements could help people with lots of drusen and with lost vision from AMD. Taking the following supplements every day may help lower the risk of developing late-stage or wet AMD:
- Vitamin C (500 mg)
- Vitamin E (400 IU)
- Lutein (10 mg)
- Zeaxanthin (2 mg)
- Zinc (80 mg)
- Copper (2 mg)
It is important to remember that the above-listed nutritional supplements are not a cure for AMD, however they may aid in slowing down the disease in some early- to mid-stage cases of AMD. Talk with your ophthalmologist to determine if these nutritional supplements are recommended for you.
AMD is very common, in fact it is the leading cause of vision loss in people over 50 years of age. Many people do not realize that they have AMD until their vision is very blurry. It is important to have regular appointments with your ophthalmologist to check for early signs of AMD before any vision problems commence.
To screen for any macular discrepancies, please visit our Amsler Grid page to monitor your vision at home.