Eye Health - Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration is one of the most common causes of blindness in the developed world. Macular Degeneration refers to a group of similar conditions of the retina which if left unchecked can stealthily and painlessly rob a patient of his vision, in particular the ability to see fine detail.

Macular Degeneration affects the pigmentation of the retina called the Retinal Pigment Epithelium (RPE). The retina receives its blood supply and nourishment through the RPE. The RPE is also the conduit for disposal of waste matter that builds up in the retina. But this is where things can go awry. If the RPE cannot effectively clear out the waste material by passing it down into the blood vessels below the retina (called the choroid) then the waste material, called drusen, builds up at the back of the eye and can eventually lead to Macular Degeneration.

The Macula, which is affected by this disease is the centermost area of the retina and is used for fine vision, such as reading, driving, facial recognition and other visual tasks which require the discernment of fine details. The other areas of the retina outside the macula are responsible for peripheral vision providing a general sense of "Something out there" but not the minute details. These other areas of the retina may continue to function while the macular deteriorates.

There is no cure for Macular Degeneration but early detection can help slow the progression of the disease, so catching it as early as possible is absolutely vital! In the early stages vision may not be affected and the patient may have little or no symptoms. At this stage diagnosis can only be done by a professional eye examination. In these early stages the waste material drusen build up will show as yellow spots.

There are two main forms of the disease:

Dry Macular Degeneration occurs where RPE cells die as a result of the drusen build up leaving missing areas in the macula. This form of the disease progresses slowly.

In the wet form of the disease blood vessels in the choroid grow into the retina and keep growing rapidly. This leads to fluid seepage and bleeding. Here acute and rapid loss of central detailed vision could occur.

Macular Degeneration is mainly a disease associated with age and is most common among the over fifties. However, certain factors may increase an individual's predisposition to the disease. The risk factors include a family history of Macular degeneration and smoking.

Quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy balanced diet with adequate fruit and leafy vegetables and limited fat intake, protecting eyes from excessive direct exposure to sunlight can all help to reduce the risk of Macular Degeneration. However, regular eye exams which include examination of the macula are absolutely vital especially after the age of fifty.

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