Why Prevention is Truly Better than Cure with Macular Degeneration

 By: Kate Dawson
There is no doubt that as we get older, our bodies tend to give in to the demands of father time. Unfortunately, our eyes are one of the most vulnerable and it is not strange for the older generations to seek treatment in an effort to reclaim the standards of sight they once enjoyed. Amongst the most common conditions amongst them is macular degeneration.

There are, of course, other degenerative conditions that affect the sight of the older generations too, not least of all is the cataract, which can affect the majority of people over the age of 60 years. But with as many as 30 per cent of people aged 75 years and older suffering from the condition to some degree, this condition is quite prevalent.

A third common condition for people over the age of 40 is glaucoma, treatment for which can vary from simple eye drops to laser surgery or actual physical surgery. However, unlike the other conditions mentioned, the degeneration of the macula in the eye is quite difficult to treat. The macula is located in the centre of the retina, which is essential to sight because it is what receives the light and images at the back of eye.

What is special about the macula is that it is responsible for focusing sight on a specific item. If, for example, a man sees his brother standing in a crowd, the macula would focus on his brother, while the rest of the eye would pick up the crowd. In fact, there are two types of the condition, which are simply referred to as dry and wet degeneration.

The wet version can develop with the growth of blood capillaries that eventually stress and leak, which in turn results in the retina lifting up and away from the wall of the eye. The consequence is the eye begins to swell and the vision worsens dramatically. A key symptom is that straight lines appear to be wavy. The good news is that the wet version is fairly rare.

By far the most common is the dry version, which accounts for nine out of 10 cases. Obviously, dry degeneration does not involve any leaking blood capillaries in the eye. Instead, cells in the macula itself begin to fail causing the vision to blur. This type develops quite slowly, meaning many sufferers never really notice the extent of the condition until it has become quite severe.

The causes are rooted in a mixture of lifestyle and natural aging, where the chances of developing the condition increases as we get older. Smoking and a poor diet can also contribute to its future development, with research showing that even after one has been diagnosed, stopping smoking can see a dramatic reduction in its progression. Interestingly, even a lack of green vegetables, like lettuce and cabbage, is considered damaging too, upholding the theory that ones greens are good for the eyes. The problem is that it is impossible to reach the macula to carry out any kind of replacement or enhancement surgery, so there is little to do but adopt preventative measures.

With the dry version, the best steps to take are healthy eating, taking supplementary vitamins, and the use of stronger glasses to reduce eye strain. A commitment to regular eye tests is also recommended. There is at least some treatment available for the wet version. In fact, there are two types of treatment. Photodynamic therapy is where a drug effectively seals off the leaky new capillaries and is then activated by a laser, while the anti VEGF treatment is where a drug is injected into the eye to stop the leaky capillaries from growing further by deactivating their protein. While glaucoma treatment has been refined to all but guarantee perfect results, and technological advancements means it is possible to safely remove a cataract from the eye, there is still some research needed before all eye conditions have a fully reliable treatment.

That is certainly true with macular degeneration, where the position of the key area requiring treatment means that direct surgery is impossible and preventative measures to curtail the progression of the condition is the only avenue to take. Of course, with the speed that developments in eye care have taken in recent decades, it may not be long before there is a surgery to solve even that condition.
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