Do You Know the Early Signs of Macular Degeneration?

Blurry eyesight and vision loss are common problems for many people. But sometimes, changes to your vision are a sign of something more than just a need for glasses. It could be a condition that causes significant changes and requires special attention – a condition like macular degeneration. 

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss. In America alone, more than 10 million people suffer the effects of macular degeneration. And unfortunately, there is no cure for this type of vision loss. It can happen at any time, though the risk of macular degeneration does increase as you get older. 

That’s why it’s so important to understand what macular degeneration is, and how this serious condition can first begin. If you’re able to recognize the early signs, you may be able to better save or protect some of your vision if you are diagnosed with it.

How Does Macular Degeneration Begin?

Macular degeneration begins right in the eyes. As a condition that slowly deteriorates parts of the eye, it begins subtly and becomes increasingly problematic as it continues.

The exact cause of macular degeneration isn’t known. There is little information about how this condition begins. What experts do know is that there can be a number of causes, including heredity and your environment

Typically, macular degeneration is centered in the retina. The retina is the back of the eye – the part that’s responsible for recording what we see and sending them along the optic nerve to the brain. Macular degeneration takes place in the macula, or the very center of the retina, which is responsible for helping the eyes focus. The macula is critical in reading, driving, and recognizing details.

And when the macula begins deteriorating due to macular degeneration, your retina will struggle to correctly “see” images and those images won’t be received correctly by the brain. 

In the earliest stages of macular degeneration, vision often isn’t affected. In fact, you likely won’t even realize anything is changing in your eyes. But as the condition progresses over time, you’ll start to notice changes. These changes can be blurry or wavy vision. 

If macular degeneration gets to its final stages, you can lose most – or even all – of your vision. Those with advanced macular degeneration are legally blind

Certain Factors Could Increase Your Risk

Although no one knows what exactly causes macular degeneration, doctors do know that some factors play a role. Age is the number one factor – the risk of developing macular degeneration increases the older you get. And it’s most common in those age 55 and older.

Your genetics and family history may also play a role in your odds of developing the condition. If anyone in your family has or had macular degeneration, you’ll have a higher risk yourself. Other vision issues may or may not play a role. 

Additionally, it’s thought that race may increase your risk. Macular degeneration is much more common in Caucasians, and Caucasian individuals are more likely to develop the condition than African Americans or Hispanic and Latino individuals.

If you’re worried about potential risk factors for macular degeneration, make sure to speak with your doctor. They will be able to assess your risk and your overall vision health.

Signs and Symptoms of Macular Degeneration

Because macular degeneration affects one of your most important senses, it might seem easy to detect. However, the early stages of this condition are actually very difficult to notice – and you might live with macular degeneration for some time before you spot any symptoms.

The early stages of macular degeneration are subtle. It’s common to not experience any symptoms. Typically, the first thing people notice is a change of some kind in their vision. The change can come on gradually or suddenly. And when that change happens, straight lines can begin to look blurry or distorted. The quality of your vision may also be noticeably different. 

As macular degeneration progresses, the changes in your vision can become more obvious or noticeable. Common symptoms include:

  • Dark, blurry areas in your line of sight.
  • Whiteouts that appear in the center of your vision.
  • A change in your ability to see color.

If your vision changes at all, it’s important to see your ophthalmologist. Regular vision checkups are critical to catching any problems early on, whether you’re having symptoms or not.

How Macular Degeneration is Treated

Unfortunately, there is no cure for macular degeneration. This means that the progressive vision loss will continue once you’ve been diagnosed with the condition. 

However, there are ways to treat macular degeneration and potentially slow its progression. Treating the condition could extend your vision, and it may be able to prevent a severe loss of vision. That’s why it’s critical to speak with your doctor about available treatment options as soon as you receive a diagnosis.

There are a number of different treatments that your doctor can try if you’re living with macular degeneration. Each one can help you manage the condition in a different way. These treatment options include:

  • Anti-Angiogenic Drugs: These are medications injected into the eye. They can target blood vessels that may be causing macular degeneration, and in some cases they may help patients regain vision.
  • Laser Therapy: In this treatment, high-energy lasers are directed into the eye to destroy abnormal blood vessels. This can help slow progression.
  • Photodynamic Laser Therapy: This is a two-step treatment that uses lasers and medication to slow macular degeneration’s progression.
  • Vitamins: Some vitamins or supplements can potentially be used to help fight vision loss with macular degeneration. 

Make sure to speak with your doctor as soon as you get a diagnosis. Certain treatment options work best for some individuals, but others may be well-suited for you. 

Overall, macular degeneration is a tricky condition to live with. It can be frustrating – and frightening – to think about losing your vision. But if you’re prepared to catch changes to your vision early on, you can work with your doctor to begin treating whatever the cause may be.

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Nov 18, 2019