According to the National Eye Institute, macular degeneration affects more than 10 million Americans, more than cataracts and glaucoma combined. Those affected are overwhelmingly over 50, Caucasian and female. It is the leading cause of blindness in Americans 60 and older. The macula is in the retina on the back wall of the eye. It is responsible for central vision and the clear vision that allows us to drive a car, read and recognize faces and colors.
The exact causes for this painless deterioration remain unclear. Research has proven that family history, race, smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol, obesity and cardiovascular disease all contribute, but increasing age is most closely associated with the most common type, Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). The two types of AMD are “dry” which is more common, slower growing and less severe and “wet”, when abnormal blood vessels leak fluid into the macula. Wet always begins as dry.
The symptoms of AMD include blurry vision, dark areas in your central vision, vision that appears darker, trouble reading or seeing fine details close and far away. The American Academy of Ophthalmology describes AMD vision loss as “seeing the numbers on a clock face but not the hands”.
Since the chance of developing this serious health problem only increases with age, how are we to save ourselves from its devastation? There is good news! In the last two decades, AMD’s prognosis of inevitable blindness has become one of hope. While there remains no “magic bullet” to prevent or cure AMD, there are now treatments and actions that slow the macula’s degeneration. Research shows that we have the power within ourselves to help prevent or delay the onset of this disease. No surprise-it’s simply healthy living.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking multiplies the risk by 400%.
- Eat plenty of dark, leafy green vegetables, and reduce risk by 43%.
- Take a daily multivitamin supplement (unless your doctor advises otherwise).
- If you already have AMD, ask your doctor about supplements especially formulated for macular health as certain nutritional additions can slow the progression of early and moderate AMD.
- Eating fish twice a week can reduce risk by 45%.
- Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. Walking 2 miles three times a week reduces the risk by a whopping 700%!
- Eat fruit and nuts daily to deter progression of AMD.
- Limit intake of refined carbohydrates. They’re just not good for you or your eyes!
- Keep blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Your heart AND your eyes will thank you!
- Wear sunglasses outdoors to prevent eye damage.
- After 60, have yearly eye exams from a board-certified eye professional. This cannot be overemphasized. Early detection is the crucial first step to minimize the vision loss of AMD.
If you are already experiencing vision loss, a low vision specialist can vastly improve your quality of life. These professionals connect you with adaptive technologies such as modified devices and appliances, help you develop independence in daily tasks and maximize the vision you have currently.