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Can Macular Degeneration Be Prevented?

 Can Macular Degeneration Be Prevented?

About 11 million Americans live with macular degeneration, a progressive eye disease. More appropriately termed age-related macular degeneration (AMD) because it often develops with advancing years, it’s the leading cause of vision loss — more than glaucoma and cataracts combined. 

AMD occurs when the central part of the retina, the light-sensing tissue located at the back of the eye, starts to deteriorate. This small central region, which comprises only 2% of the retina’s area, is called the macula.

AMD doesn’t cause total blindness because it only affects your central — not your peripheral — vision. Instead, it presents as a black spot in the middle of your visual field that prevents you from performing everyday tasks such as driving, reading, and even recognizing faces and colors.

Our expert team of ophthalmologists at Retina Specialists, with five locations in and around the Dallas, Texas area, specializes in diagnosing and treating all forms of retinal diseases, including macular degeneration. Our goal is to preserve as much of your vision as possible and improve your quality of life. 

Is AMD preventable? The short answer is no, but if it’s caught early enough, treatment can preserve much of your vision. Here’s the longer, and more helpful, answer.

What happens with AMD

The eye operates a lot like a camera. The lens bends incoming light and focuses it on the light-sensitive material inside, creating an image you can see. When everything functions normally, the macula collects the highly detailed information in the area right in front of the lens and sends it to the optic nerve, which sends it to the brain for decoding.

When the macular tissue is damaged, it can’t record the information properly, and your brain can’t make sense of it. You see only a partial image of the visual field until that, too, disappears.

AMD comes in two forms: dry and wet.

Dry macular degeneration (atrophic)

Accounting for 85-90% of all cases, with dry AMD, the macula thins and accumulates small deposits of lipids and proteins on its surface, known as drusen. Drusen likely don’t cause AMD themselves, but their presence is an early sign you have the disease.

Symptoms of dry AMD include:

The only treatment for dry AMD is a course of low vision rehabilitation.

Wet macular degeneration (exudative)

Most patients who have wet AMD experience the dry form first. 

With wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels develop behind the retina. They leak fluid into the macula, damaging the cells and creating scar tissue. 

Many of the symptoms are similar to the dry form, but you can also have:

Because the blood vessels leak, wet AMD progresses faster than dry AMD.

Patients with wet AMD can also benefit from low vision rehabilitation, but there’s another, highly effective treatment available as well. The anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) class of medications has been repurposed from its original use as a treatment for colon cancer. The drug is injected directly into the eye at regular intervals, where it prevents the growth of new blood vessels.

It’s important to note that any damage to the macula can’t be reversed. The anti-VEGF medications can only prevent future deterioration.

Can macular degeneration be prevented?

The exact cause of AMD isn’t yet known, in large part because of a lack of research funding to conduct the necessary trials. What researchers do know, however, is that the condition is likely the result of a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors.

The biggest risk factor for AMD is unquestionably age; it’s most common in men and women 55 and older. Additional risk factors include:

While you can control your environment, such as not smoking and wearing eye protection for sports and work, you can’t control genetics. If you have unchangeable risk factors, the best thing you can do is get regular eye exams, which can catch the symptoms early in the progression and minimize vision loss.

If you’re at risk for AMD, or if you already have symptoms, it’s time to come into Retina Specialists for an evaluation and treatment by one of our skilled ophthalmologists. Call us at any of our five Texas offices, or book online with us today.

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