What are the Risk Factors for Macular Degeneration?
An estimated 11 million people in the United States have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of severe vision loss in people over 50. Unfortunately, this number is expected to double to nearly 22 million by 2050.
Macular degeneration is an eye disease that many people experience as they age. It affects the macula — an area of the retina that is responsible for clear central vision. To understand the importance of the macula, consider that whatever you are looking at, be it your child’s face, the television screen, or an actor on a stage, the image is focused on the macula.
Types of Macular Degeneration
There are two main forms of macular degeneration; dry and wet.
Dry macular degeneration is the more common form and can affect one or both eyes. If only one eye is affected, you may not notice changes in your vision as your good eye may compensate for the weak one. Because the condition doesn’t affect side (peripheral) vision, it rarely causes total blindness.
Dry AMD can progress to wet (neovascular) macular degeneration, which is characterized by the growth of abnormal blood vessels that leak blood or fluid into the bottom of the retina. The wet type is more likely to cause a sudden change in vision, typically resulting in serious vision loss.
Risk Factors for Macular Degeneration
No one knows exactly what causes dry macular degeneration, but genetics and environmental factors play a prominent role in its development.
The risk factors for AMD include:
- Age – it typically develops in those over 50 years of age
- Gender – this disease affects more women than men
- Family history and genetics – studies show that certain genes raise the risk of developing of macular degeneration
- Race – AMD is more common in Caucasians
- Overexposure to UV light
- Smoke – smoking or regularly being exposed to smoke
- Obesity – studies suggest that e a body mass index over 30 can more than double your chances of age-related macular degeneration
- Cardiovascular disease – diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels put you at a higher risk of macular degeneration
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
While you may not be aware of vision loss in the early stages of AMD, your eye doctor can detect the signs during a comprehensive eye exam and take certain measures to keep it from progressing. This is why it’s critical to undergo regular eye exams to verify that your eye health and vision are in check.
In its more advanced stages, macular degeneration can cause various visual symptoms that can affect daily life. These include:
Decreased visual acuity: Vision may become distorted, hazy or gray, and you may notice a dark or blind spot in the center. This can make it challenging to read, watch TV, and recognize faces, among other things.
Reduced contrast sensitivity: You may struggle to see textures or subtle changes in your environment, such as a flight of stairs. You may also have difficulty distinguishing between two colors of a similar hue when placed side by side.
Sensitivity to light and glare: Many people with macular degeneration develop sensitivity to light and glare, making it difficult for your eyes to adjust when driving or when moving from a well-lit room to a darker one. Bright sunlight streaming in through a window may cause everything outside the glare to “black out.”
Decreased depth perception: Depth perception refers to seeing things in three dimensions (including length, width and depth), and judging how far away an object is situated. A decrease in this visual skill makes it difficult to drive and navigate streets.
Tips for Preventing Macular Degeneration
You can reduce your risk of the disease by:
- Quitting or reducing smoking, if you smoke
- Eating a healthy diet and consuming certain vitamins
- Wearing UV-protective sunglasses and a hat with a brim
- Managing existing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension
By getting an early diagnosis and adopting the steps above, you can slow the disease’s progression. Therefore, it’s important to watch for the warning signs and make sure to schedule regular comprehensive eye exams with our optometric team. At Eye & Ear of the Palm Beaches we stay abreast on all of the latest treatment options. If you have AMD, we will discuss the various ways and strategies to preserve your vision and eye health so you can live your best life.