There are two types of macular degeneration due to age, wet and dry. Wet macular degeneration presents with swelling as a result of blood vessels in the back of the eye that are leaking. Wet macular degeneration is the more serious form of the disease than can develop from dry macular degeneration and rapidly diminishes the vision of the eye. The more common form of the disease is dry macular degeneration. Dry macular degeneration affects the area located in the center of the retina called the macula. This area of the eye provides clear vision. As we age, the cells of the macula break down, or degenerate, and it affects the quality of our vision. There is no known cause of dry macular degeneration but there are risk factors that include age, sex (more common in females), race (more common in Caucasians over the age of 75), smoking, family history of the disease, obesity, a diet low in fruits and vegetables, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This disease can be present in only one eye or both eyes. When it affects just one eye, symptoms may not be noticed as easily because the unaffected eye will compensate for the degenerated eye. Dry macular degeneration develops gradually over time and as it progresses a person may experience more difficulty seeing in lower lighted settings, blurred vision or lack of vision in the center of the eye, the need for brighter light for reading and in later stages of the disease, possible hallucinations in the form of shapes or people.
Stage of the Disease
During an appointment, an examination of the eye will be performed with vision tests such as an Amsler grid, which, if a person does have macular degeneration, some of the lines on the grid will appear broken or blurred. The physician will examine the back of the eye, looking for yellow deposit formation (drusen) that is present with macular degeneration. An angiogram may be ordered to help rule out if the disease has progressed to wet macular degeneration. The angiogram uses a dye injected through an IV line that highlights the blood vessels in the eyes, showing if there is any abnormality to the retina or blood vessels themselves. Following an examination, the stage of the disease will be known. The early stage of the disease will show small amounts of small to medium sized drusen on the macula of the eye and no visual disturbances or loss is present during this stage. The intermediate stage will show moderate amounts of medium drusen or a small amount of large drusen and at this stage blurred vision and the need for more light while reading will be experienced. The advanced stage will show some large drusen as well as a reduced amount of light-sensitive cells within the macula. This reduction in cells will cause a blurred spot within the central vision of the eye and may grow in size over time. There is no cure for dry macular degeneration but at this time supplementation of various vitamins and minerals may be able to reduce the progression of the disease and the risk of vision loss. For a list of these supplements, please visit www.mayoclinic.com/health/macular-degeneration.
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