Macular Degeneration: Causes and Symptoms

 By: Kathryn Dawson
Macular degeneration is one of the most frequent causes of impaired vision in the UK. This painless eye condition is common among people above the age of 50. According to a report published by National Health Service (NHS) in 2008, approximately 30% of individuals above the age of 75 were suffering from the preliminary stage of macular degeneration and 7% had crossed to the advanced stages. According to one estimate, more than 239,000 people will be affected by age-related macular degeneration by 2011.

What is Macular Degeneration?
Dry macular degeneration is an eye condition that leads to the loss of vision from the centre of the retina, which we use to view fine detail. It means that a person suffering from severe macular degeneration may not be able to read, write or drive. To perform all these activities, we focus our vision through the central portion of the retina, which is called the macula. This is what enables us to focus on and view subjects that are directly in front of our eyes. The degeneration of the macula does not affect peripheral vision or side vision as severely.

Wet macular degeneration is caused by abnormal blood vessels growing which then leak. This can force the retina to lift away from the eye wall, which then can cause swelling and affect the person's eyesight. A common symptom for a sufferer of wet AMD is to see straight lines appearing wavy. This needs a trip to the doctor immediately as eyesight lost through wet AMD cannot be retrieved.

Causes of Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration commonly affects people above 50 years of age. Different health conditions lead to different forms of macular degeneration. As a person grows older, wear and tear affects the body, especially if the owner has a poor diet of high cholesterol combined with smoking and high blood pressure. Physical changes may occur in the central retinal tissue, the macular, and the rods and cones (or photoreceptors) begin to break down, resulting in deteriorating eyesight. As this worsens, central vision becomes hazy or blurred. This is called dry macular degeneration.

Wet macular degeneration starts with new blood vessels growing in the retina. The new blood vessels can leak blood, causing the retina to lift away from the eye wall and in turn severely damaging the person's vision. Eyesight destroyed in this way cannot be repaired.

Macular degeneration is a rare phenomenon at a lower age. In younger people, this problem can surface due to some physical defects existing since birth. Inherited genetic disorders can also lead to macular degeneration among younger people.

Macular Degeneration: Major Symptoms
Similar to diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration starts showing measurable symptoms at a very advanced stage. The two major symptoms of this visual defect are:

  • Loss of ability to judge the fine details of an object or image.

  • Loss of ability to understand contrast variation.

Specific symptoms of dry macular degeneration are hazy vision, the inability to identify faces, need for brighter light when reading and difficulty in reading the newspaper. Wet macular degeneration patients will experience more evident symptoms, such as major visual distortion and blind spots.

There are several vision correction methods available to control wet macular degeneration. For dry AMD, control is usually effected by changing to a healthier diet and lifestyle, such as cutting out smoking and reducing fat intake. To detect macular degeneration at an early stage, consult an eye doctor immediately if experiencing changes in eyesight.

For more information on macular degeneration treatment, browse the internet for specialist eye hospitals. Their websites can provide detailed information on the symptoms and treatment available. Look for a specialist provider of ophthalmic services. Make sure they focus on personalised treatment tailored to each of their patients as you'll want to ensure the best possible results in an environment where you can feel relaxed and well cared for. They should also be using advanced technologies and have leading ophthalmic surgeons on their staff.
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