Don’t let macular degeneration dim your view of the world

April 21, 2015 Providence Health Team

What do you know about macular degeneration?For an 80-year-old guy, Jack was holding up well as a new octogenarian. He faithfully took his daily walk at noon, finishing it steady and with plenty of stamina in reserve.

But, there was the matter of his eyesight. It had progressively deteriorated – enough so that Jack was forced to surrender a prized piece of his independence: his driver’s license. Jack’s doctor diagnosed him with age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. The disease is the leading cause of vision loss in those older than 50 and affects up to 15 million Americans.

AMD strikes gradually and without pain or symptoms. It begins to play tricks on a person’s vision: straight lines start to appear wavy and the center of their vision is blurry, distorted or whited out. Color perception may diminish or change. But their peripheral vision is unchanged. It’s no doubt a disturbing revelation for someone to find their visual world distorted and dimming.

Ophthalmologists say AMD is caused by deterioration of the macula – a tiny spot in the central part of the retina. It’s composed of millions of light-sensing cells that help produce your central vision. 

AMD can take two different forms: dry or wet macular degeneration. With dry AMD, there’s a thinning of the macula’s tissues and dysfunction in those light-sensing cells. Wet AMD forms when abnormal blood vessels develop between the retina and supporting tissue behind it. While it happens only in one of 10 AMD cases, it is responsible for 90 percent of severe vision-loss cases.

Aging and heredity seem to factor in AMD development. Women are more likely to get it. And, one in nine Caucasians between 65 and 74, and one in four older than 75, develop the disease. While the condition isn’t curable, early treatment can slow its progression and halt severe vision loss. 

Other risk factors are at play, including:

  • A diet rich in partially hydrogenated fats
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Long-term exposure to ultraviolet light
  • Low levels of minerals and vitamins A, C and E

You can reduce the risk of developing AMD by increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables. Foods containing antioxidant vitamins A, C and E are helpful. Beneficial nutrients can be found in deep green, yellow and orange vegetables, including spinach, cantaloupe, mango, sweet potatoes, cabbage and broccoli.

If you’re 50 or older, doctors recommend a yearly visit to an eye doctor – to check for macular degeneration, glaucoma and other conditions.

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