This degenerative eye disease is also known as age related macular degeneration and senile macular degeneration. As its name implies, it is a disease that mainly affects the macula. You may recall that the macula is the centre part of the retina and the area responsible for our visual acuity and colour vision. The condition is more commonly seen amongst Caucasian races as compared to Asian races and usually affects those aged fifty years and above.

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‘Dry’ AMD

 

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Normal Retina

Blurred Vision from Macular Degeneration
During the early stages of the disease, there are no symptoms. However by looking at the retina with an opthalmoscope, your doctor will be able to see small yellow spots called drusens. These are deposits of degenerative material located beneath the retina. For most patients with drusens, the progression of the disease is slow and they go through life without developing any serious visual problems. Unfortunately, for a small group of patients, the disease progresses more rapidly and there will be complaints of blurred vision, a dark or empty spot in the central visual field or distorted vision.

Management of Macula Degeneration
There is no definitive treatment for age-related macular degeneration. However, recent studies have shown that that ensuring daily intake of certain vitamins and trace elements anti- oxidants can slow down the disease progression. These include lutein, xanthine and zeaxanthine carotenoids that are necessary for the body’s protection against oxidative damage. A high level of lutein is found in the macula, the part of the eyes responsible for central vision. Other important vitamins and trace elements are Beta-carotene: Beta-carotene protects the retina from aggressive blue light.

It also forms the precursor of vitamin A, from which visual purple is formed for the photorececptors. Vitamin E: Vitamin E protects the photoreceptors of the sensitive cell membrane from free radicals. In vitamin E deficiency, substances are formed which cannot be decomposed or which may be harmful; these are deposited in the cells as ‘waste products’ with the potential to impair function over time. Vitamin C: inside the eye there is naturally very high concentration of vitamin C. Vitamin C deactivates free radicals which can form in the tissues of the eye under the influence of light. Zinc, Copper, Selenium: These trace elements are very important for the function of the antioxidant enzymes inherent in the cells. An adequate intake of zinc can have a beneficial effect against the further progress of macular degeneration.

Other measures that may be of help in slowing the disease progression are:

Ensuring A Balanced Nutritional Intake
Eat healthy and balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables. This is important for the eyes as well as for general bodily health. If you’re constantly skipping meals, dieting or unable to ensure intake of regular balanced meals, a nutritional supplement of vitamin/trace element antioxidants would be useful option to prevent deficiency.

Protect Eyes from Excessive Sunlight
It is recommended that sunglasses should be worn outdoors on very sunny days. This prevents the unnecessary formation of free radicals. This can also protect the macula from long-term damage.

Adequate Fluid intake
Drink at least 6-8 glasses of fluid daily. This is important for the maintenance of healthy cell functions. Water also facilitates the removal of bodily wastes via the kidneys.

Fortunately, in almost all cases, enough side vision is maintained and the patient does not become totally blind. This is because the disease involves mainly the central retina. Therefore, though the patient may not be able to read or recognize faces, he can still see well enough to move around and care for himself. In addition, the eyes are often not equally affected and the patient who experiences the severe loss of vision in one eye may continue to see well and read with the fellow eye for many years or the remainder of his life. The unfortunate patient who experiences severe loss of vision in both eyes may still be able to read using stronger prescription lenses or magnifiers. A visit to a Low Vision Clinic will be helpful to find out if low visual aids can help.

In a small percentage of patients, a sudden loss of vision occurs as a result of bleeding from abnormal blood vessels which sometimes grows beneath the retina in this condition. Here, laser treatment may be used to treat the blood vessels to stop them from bleeding and growing. Before carrying out the laser treatment, a special investigation called flourescein angiography will need to be done to determine the location of the abnormal blood vessels.