A: Macular degeneration is a disease that results in a progressive loss of the central vision due to damage of the retina. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) specifically destroys the macula, which is the part of the retina that is responsible for seeing central objects, fine details and color. Currently, AMD is the leading cause of severe vision loss among Americans age 60 and older; however, damage can begin many years prior to age 60. This disease is not painful and typically advances slowly; therefore, most patients are unable to detect early changes. Other cases have progressed much faster and the patient is left with peripheral vision only, causing difficulty performing daily activities such as driving, reading and recognizing faces.
Regular comprehensive eye exams are the only way to detect macular degeneration before the disease robs the patient of his or her sight. Current treatments available can slow the progression and vision loss, but cannot restore vision that has been lost.
Factors that increase your risk of developing macular degeneration include smoking, ultraviolet light exposure, increased age, Caucasian descent, poor nutrition and family history of the disease. Some of these risk factors cannot be modified and are out of our control, yet others can be changed. Wearing sunglasses with proper UV protection and getting the appropriate amounts of eye specific vitamins, such as lutein, are recommended to help protect the macula and reduce the risk of developing AMD.
Information provided by Tara J. Cooper, O.D., Lifetime Vision, 5525 Merle Hay Road, Suite 155, Johnston, 259-9009.