Macular Degeneration

macular degeneration picture showing normal vision compared to blurred vision

The macula is a pigmented area at the back of the eye. The macula allows us to see what is straight in front of us and allows us to perform fine detail tasks like reading and writing. When the macula becomes damaged it becomes harder to see fine detail. The central part of your vision becomes affected causing distorted or blurred vision. Straight lines appear wavy and in general, a person may notice their vision getting gradually worse. A symptom of macular degeneration (MD) is blurred central vision. Macular degeneration leads to the complete loss of central vision.

A distorted view where straight lines appear wavy is also one of the most common symptoms of macular degeneration. This will be checked during an eye examination. It is important to check both eyes separately for this defect as an unaffected eye can compensate for an affected one allowing the defect to go unnoticed for longer.

An optician will use a test called an Amsler chart to check for this symptom. The chart is held at your normal reading distance and if you wear glasses you will keep them on to do the test. Cover one eye at a time and focus on the black dot in the centre of the grid. Check if any of the lines on the grid appear to be broken, wavy or missing. If so, then you should make an appointment to see an optician straight away.

There are two types of macular degeneration:

Dry macular degeneration

This is the most common form. This develops when deposits called drusen build up and damage the cells of the macula. The vision loss is gradual and may take many years to occur, however, there is no treatment for Dry MD. Some research suggests that a diet rich in vitamins A, C and E may help prevent the onset of Dry MD. Also, the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which you find in a wide range of vegetables, are thought to be beneficial in reducing the risk of macular degeneration.

Wet macular degeneration

This develops when abnormal blood vessels form behind the macula. These blood vessels will leak fluid which damages the macula. This damage to the macula results in rapid vision loss.

Wet MD is more serious than Dry MD as vision loss can occur rapidly. Wet MD can sometimes be treated if it is caught early enough. It is treated by injecting drugs into the eye to reduce the growth of the abnormal blood vessels. Some sight loss may be restored, although not everyone will find their vision improved by this treatment.

Cause of macular degeneration

Macular degeneration usually occurs in older people hence it is sometimes referred to as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD). The exact cause of macular degeneration is not known but there are several factors which may contribute to its onset. Studies show that you may reduce your risk of developing the condition if you:

  • don’t smoke
  • eat a healthy balanced diet which includes plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • maintain a healthy weight and do not have high blood pressure
  • wear glasses with a UV absorbing coating.

Risk from exposure to UV light

Most people know that there is a risk of skin cancer from exposure to UV rays on their body. Thus, they will wear an SPF lotion to protect their skin when outdoors. Unfortunately, fewer people are aware of the risks of UV damage to their eyes.

As previously mentioned, exposure to UV light can be a contributory factor in the development of macular degeneration. It is, therefore, very important to make sure that your glasses have a UV coating on the lenses. It is not only sunglasses that can provide protection from the sun’s harmful rays. A UV protective coating can also be put onto ordinary clear spectacle lenses. Also, a good quality anti-reflection coating will usually have a UV coating incorporated into it.

As harmful UV rays are thought to be a contributory factor in the development of macular degeneration and other eye problems such as cataracts, it is important that you discuss a UV coating with your optician the next time you are purchasing glasses.

If you or any friends or family members are complaining about their vision getting gradually worse then you/they should immediately make an appointment to see us

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