Are There Obvious Symptoms of Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is a common age-related eye condition. It doesn’t typically cause total blindness. 

However, it is a leading cause of vision loss in adults over 55. It also doesn’t show many symptoms, especially during its early stages. 

Once symptoms start appearing, there is no treatment, as vision loss from the eye condition is permanent. The best way to know if you have macular degeneration before experiencing vision loss is by scheduling eye exams regularly. 

There are also some small warning signs you may be able to spot. Treating macular degeneration can be challenging, but the best way to save your remaining vision is to have it detected and diagnosed early. 

Keep reading to learn more about macular degeneration and if there are any obvious signs of the eye condition!

What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is usually referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Macular degeneration is typically caused by aging.

The eye condition occurs when the retina’s center, called the macula, begins to break down or become damaged. Your retina is the membrane on the back of your eye containing photoreceptor cells. 

The photoreceptor cells translate the light that passes through your eye into impulses sent to your brain. When damaged, some of these cells are destroyed. If this happens, the retina can’t send a complete picture of what you see.

There are two types of macular degeneration: dry and wet. 

Dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Dry age-related macular degeneration is the more common of the two. It occurs when the macula becomes too due to a buildup of yellowish deposits called drusen. 

It takes a long time for the macula to become thin, and it can take many years before significant vision loss occurs due to dry age-related macular degeneration. 

Wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Wet age-related macular degeneration is more rare than dry age-related macular degeneration. However, it can develop out of dry age-related macular degeneration. 

It occurs when the blood vessels under the macula grow abnormally. Not only are these extra blood vessels, but they also usually swell up and may leak. 

As these blood vessels leak, they damage the macula and form scar tissue. Vision loss is often faster with wet age-related macular degeneration. 

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

The best way to diagnose age-related macular degeneration is by scheduling an eye exam with your ophthalmologist. Eye exams allow your eye doctor to spot the early signs of age-related macular degeneration and other eye conditions. 

Your eye doctor can also see if you’re likely to develop the eye condition by seeing how much drusen builds under the macula. Symptoms of age-related macular degeneration are typically mild initially, making them challenging to spot. 

The earliest symptom patients experience is usually noticing that straight lines appear wavy. As the eye condition progresses, your central vision will become significantly more affected. 

At first, your central vision will appear a little blurry. You may have trouble recognizing familiar faces. 

In later stages, you may have blind spots in the middle of your vision. In the most advanced stages of age-related macular degeneration, your central vision will go entirely dark.

These symptoms usually develop very slowly, especially if you have dry age-related macular degeneration. However, receiving a diagnosis as soon as possible is crucial, ideally once you’ve started noticing early symptoms. 

In some cases, dry age-related macular degeneration can turn into wet age-related macular degeneration, accelerating vision loss.

Preventing Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Although you can’t prevent the development of age-related macular degeneration, you can reduce your risk of it. The most significant risk factors for age-related macular degeneration include:

  • Being over 50
  • Tobacco use
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Family history of age-related macular degeneration

There is no way to control all these factors. Fortunately, if you’re a smoker, you can quit smoking and lead a healthy lifestyle to combat high blood pressure and high cholesterol. 

Your primary healthcare provider can recommend how to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol or keep them from getting too high. They’ll usually tell you to avoid saturated fats, eat a balanced diet, and stay active.

Be sure to consult your primary care provider before significantly changing your diet and exercise routine. However, doing your best to stay healthy can do its part to lower your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration

Adopting a healthier lifestyle can also help lower your risk of developing wet age-related macular degeneration from dry age-related macular degeneration if you have age-related macular degeneration. It can also help prevent the dry form from developing as quickly. 

Certain vitamins have also been shown to slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration that your ophthalmologist can recommend. 

Treating Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Unfortunately, there are no treatments for dry age-related macular degeneration. Although no treatment exists, certain nutritional supplements may slow the deterioration of the macula. 

But diagnosis is still vital so your eye doctor can monitor your vision, recommend visual aids when necessary, and look for signs of it becoming wet age-related macular degeneration. Wet age-related macular degeneration has treatment options, but they can only prevent or slow down further damage to the macula. 

However, it’s unable to repair the damage that’s already occurred. The primary method of treating wet age-related macular degeneration is with anti-VEGF injections. 

Anti-VEGF injections are a medication injected into the eye. This medication inhibits blood vessel growth. Some laser therapies may be used in particularly severe cases. 

If you stay vigilant about keeping your eyes healthy, it becomes much easier to manage age-related macular degeneration. Look out for signs and symptoms and stay on top of scheduling eye exams.

Do you need more information about age-related macular degeneration? Learn more about age-related macular degeneration by requesting an appointment at New England Eye Center in Boston, MA, now!

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