Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive deterioration of the central vision which is due to the aging of the macula. The macula is the very center of the retina and is responsible for detailed central vision. It is only about 3 mm across. For its size, the macula needs more blood supply than any other tissue in the body. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that circulate in our bloodstream. They are a byproduct of different chemical processes within the body. These free radicals cause premature cell death and are linked to macular degeneration.
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This disease results in a slow loss of vision. It usually starts when a person is in their 70s and 80s. Early macular degeneration will not be noticed by patients as there is no decrease in vision. The initial symptoms if any, may be slight blurriness of the vision or distorted central vision. Regular eye examinations are the only way to properly diagnose early stages of macular degeneration. As the disease advances, the blurriness may increase and culminate in a large macular hemorrhage in which the macula and center of vision is effectively destroyed. Once the blood clears, a large scar will develop leading to permanent vision loss.
Diagnosis of dry type macular degeneration is very important as the macula can be then closely monitored with examination, photography, OCT to watch for any signs of advancing into wet type macular degeneration which involves the hemorrhage. If early signs of wet type are noticed, injections of Avastin or Lucentis into the eye can prevent hemorrhages. These injections must be repeated every few weeks but are oftentimes very effective. However once the large macular hemorrhage and scar have occurred, the injections do not work. Hence early diagnosis is key in preventing extreme vision loss for macular degeneration.
It is recommended that everyone past the age of 50 take a vitamin supplement high in antioxidants contained in the age-related eye disease study (AREDS) to prevent or delay macular degeneration. These antioxidants react with the free radicals and prevent them from damaging the macula and other tissues in the body.
Anything that prematurely ages the body can also prematurely age the macula. Hence, smoking, bad diet, obesity, excessive sun exposure can also increase chances of macular degeneration. Also currently under investigation is a possible link between excessive blue light exposure from computers, iPhones, iPads and other light-emitting devices and the premature agent of the macula due to high-energy bluelight aging the macula.