Did you know that 13 million Americans suffer from age-related macular degeneration? With many of the baby boomer generation beginning to reach their 60s this number will probably rise in the next few years.
Some early signs of macular degeneration are unexplained shadowy areas, straight lines that look wavy, or dark spots in your vision. If you notice any of these signs see your eye doctor immediately to find out if you are developing macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is a progressive condition, the longer you wait the worse it will get.
Most Common Cause of Blindness
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in Americans 65 or older. It is also the most common cause of legal blindness in that age range. We say legal blindness because people may still be able to see, just not well enough to do many of the things that they are used to doing.
The macula is the portion of the retina we use when driving, reading, watching television, recognizing faces, and other fine or detailed work. Macular degeneration makes doing these normal every day activities impossible.
No one is exactly sure what causes macular degeneration but some risk factors have been defined:
- High blood pressure
- Age – the risk is higher as we get older
- Cardiovascular disease
- Unprotected exposure to sunlight
- Family history of AMD
- Being female and /or Caucasian
People who fit into one or more of these risk areas are more likely to develop macular degeneration. If you are in more than one of these categories the chances of developing AMD may be even higher. Some of the risks you just can’t avoid such as a family history of the condition, but taking steps to alter the risks that you can change may save your vision.
Macular degeneration usually occurs gradually. It may affect each eye at different rates. There are two forms of age-related macular degeneration. Most patients suffer from the dry form of AMD.
This can be caused by the aging and thinning of the macular tissue or changes in pigmentation. The wet form of AMD is caused by the formation of new blood vessels beneath the retina. These new blood vessels often leak blood or fluids which in turn kill cells in the retina.
As of yet, there is no cure for AMD. However, there are ways to slow the progression and lower your risk of developing macular degeneration.
- If you smoke, quit: Studies have shown that smokers are twice as likely to develop AMD as non-smokers. Not to mention that it is just bad for your health overall. Cigarette smoke contains many toxic components and poisons that our bodies have trouble eliminating.
- Wear sunglasses: Protect your eye from UV rays. Make sure your sunglasses are rated for 100% protection from ultraviolet rays. Wearing a hat with a wide brim when outdoors will also help to screen your eyes. Make sure that you keep the sunglasses handy in the winter time as well. Glare from snow and ice is just as bad for your eyes as the glare of sunlight reflected from water.
- Protect your cardiovascular system: Uncontrolled hypertension raises your risk of developing the wet form of AMD. Add walking or bike riding to your daily exercise to build a strong cardiovascular system. It is also wise to avoid stress when at all possible. If you cannot avoid it learn ways to eliminate it. Stress is one of the leading causes of high blood pressure and tension.
- Improve your diet: Vegetables and fruit are especially important to good eye health. Dark green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, and collard greens are great sources of lutein and zeaxanthin which your eye need to stay healthy. You may also want to take a supplement that is high in vitamins C and E, zinc, copper, and beta-carotene. Consult your doctor before beginning supplements.
- Limit your fat intake: However, not all fats are bad for you, omega-3 fatty acids can protect against advanced macular degeneration. Nuts are your friends, any type of nut will do. Eating one serving of nuts a day has been shown to decrease the risk of progression of AMD by 40 percent. The fats that you need to avoid are the saturated fats that come from meat and dairy products. These fats are solid at room temperature. To avoid these fats cut back on red meats and eat more fish, chicken, or beans instead for protein.
Regular eye exams are an excellent way to prevent vision loss. As we age they become even more important. People age 65 or older should see their eye doctor for a complete eye exam every year or two. More often if they are noticing any problems with their vision. We keep using the age of 65 as a marker, however, if you notice any of the signs we have been talking about at an earlier age talk to your doctor.
Sixty-five is an average age when macular degeneration can start there is nothing to say that it can’t start earlier or later than that. We don’t want anyone to get the impression that just because they are only 60 they are safe from this problem. As with many other health conditions there is a possibility that it may start earlier or never start at all.
Following these steps are the best chance that we can give you to avoid or delay the development of macular degeneration. We sincerely hope that this information has been of help to you.