Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss and affects more than 10 million Americans. Mark R Fleckner MD, a New York-based and board-certified ophthalmologist specializing in vitreoretinal diseases and surgery, has treated many cases of macular degeneration throughout his career. He explains what you need to know about the disease and how to reduce your risk.
What It Is
Macular degeneration is an eye disease in which the macula, the central point of the retina, deteriorates. The retina is responsible for sending images to the optic nerve and brain. When it malfunctions, the macula can no longer focus and it is difficult for the person to see.
The condition is most common in older adults as cell degeneration typically occurs with age. If the blood vessels in the eye are not leaking, it is known as “dry” macular degeneration. “Wet” macular degeneration occurs when the blood vessels leak and push the macula out of its position. A third type, known as Stargardt disease, is inherited and can cause issues with vision in childhood.
Symptoms typically present gradually. In the early stages, vision may be blurry and lines distorted. The person might have trouble seeing in the dark or experience blank spots. In some cases, a person might not notice any difference in their vision at first. As the disease progresses, the person might experience partial vision loss and new, abnormal blood vessels in the eye. Over time, the central vision will become blurry while peripheral vision remains intact. People with macular degeneration typically have trouble recognizing faces and shapes and making out details.
Treatment & Prevention
Dr. Mark Fleckner explains there is not currently a cure for macular degeneration, which makes prevention particularly crucial. However, eye doctors can provide different ways to manage the condition and reduce its effects. Dr. Mark Flecker says taking supplements of particular vitamins, such as vitamin C, E, lutein, copper, and zinc may help slow the disease’s progress. An ophthalmologist may also use intravitreal or laser therapy to fix abnormal blood vessels.
To reduce your risk, one of the best things you can do is stop smoking if you are a smoker, Dr. Mark Fleckner says. Also, wear sunglasses whenever you are outside on a sunny day, including in the winter. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins C and E, zinc, and lutein. Dr. Mark Fleckner advises it is also important to see your eye doctor regularly for checkups; they will be able to detect the disease in its early stages when it is easier to treat.