5 Myths About Macular Degeneration
- Know the Facts to Protect Your EyesMacular degeneration, also known as AMD (age-related macular degeneration), is a chronic eye condition most common in people over 60. People with macular degeneration may lose their central vision or the ability to see straight ahead, but retain their peripheral, or side vision. Many people think being diagnosed with macular degeneration (AMD) leads to total blindness, which is not true. There are excellent treatments available and lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent the disease from progressing. By learning the myths surrounding macular degeneration, you can work with your doctor to protect your vision and overall eye health.
- Myth No. 1: Macular degeneration is rare.Age-related Macular degeneration (AMD), though largely unknown in the public a few decades back, is actually the leading cause of vision loss in adults over 50. Sufferers can be as young as 20. Macular degeneration affects 10 million Americans—more than glaucoma and cataracts combined. Up to 196 million people may be diagnosed with AMD by the year 2020. Two types of AMD include dry, where the cells of the macula, the center of the retina, die, causing blurry central vision; and wet, where fluid from blood vessels leak into the macula and cause blind spots. Dry AMD is much more common—about 85 to 90% of all cases. Wet AMD (10 to 15% of cases) is considered the more advanced form since it can cause rapid and severe damage to vision.
- Myth No. 2: You’ll be able to tell if you have age-related macular degeneration.Macular degeneration may be barely noticeable in its earliest stages. Most people won’t have vision loss, which is why regular exams with an ophthalmologist are important. Sometimes only the vision of one eye is affected while the other eye continues to see normally. The most common early symptom of the dry form of AMD is blurred vision. Later symptoms include difficulty recognizing faces or reading. With wet AMD, typical early symptoms include straight lines appearing wavy or crooked, coupled or followed by a loss of central vision. When looking at someone’s face, the eyes, nose and lips may seem blurry or have blind spots while the outside perimeter and hair are seen clearly.
- Myth No. 3: Once diagnosed, there’s no way to stop macular degeneration from getting worse.Although you can’t prevent macular degeneration entirely, you can reduce the progression of the disease with a healthy lifestyle and medical treatment. Eating a diet filled with green, leafy vegetables and fish; avoiding smoking; maintaining a normal weight; protecting your eyes from ultraviolet light with sunglasses; keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check; and exercising regularly all can help. Keeping regularly scheduled appointments with your ophthalmologist and undergoing any recommended treatments such as high-dose formulas of antioxidants, as well as medication or laser or photodynamic therapy, which eradicate and prevent the future growth of abnormal blood vessels, can help prevent AMD from progressing.
- Myth No. 4: Macular degeneration can’t be treated.Dry AMD may be treated with a variety of therapies, including antioxidant supplements to halt the progression of symptoms, low vision rehabilitation with a specialist to help you adjust to vision deficits, or a surgical implant of a telescopic lens to magnify your field of vision. For wet AMD, medications can halt the progression of the disease, preserve existing vision and, if used early enough, possibly restore some lost vision. Photodynamic and laser therapy also may be options, using medication and light or lasers to seal the blood vessels in the macula and prevent them from leaking. Low vision rehabilitation can also be helpful in adjusting to wet AMD-related vision deficits like blind spots.
- Myth No. 5: There’s nothing you can do to prevent macular degeneration.Although the cause of AMD is unknown, there are some known risk factors you can address, including smoking, obesity, exposure to ultraviolet light, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Risk factors that cannot be changed include age (AMD is more common in those over 60), a family history of AMD, light skin tone, light-colored eyes, and gender (women are at greater risk). Regular eye examinations assure prompt treatment of any AMD changes. Eating a healthy diet, avoiding smoking, maintaining your weight, and keeping tabs on blood pressure and cholesterol levels are all steps you can take to keep your eyes healthy and help prevent macular degeneration.