As a person grows older, the chances of development of various health conditions increase greatly. In fact, there are a number of diseases and health risks that are specifically diagnosed or have a high probability of occurring in adults over the age of sixty.
One of such problems is macular degeneration. In accordance with the statistics, ten to eleven million adults in the United States alone suffer from macular degeneration which can result in weakening of vision or even total blindness that cannot be cured.
Macular degeneration is also known to be the number one reason for changes in eyesight and loss of vision around the world.
Researchers have estimated that the cases of this health condition will go up to 22 million by the year 2050 as the population of people over 60 will increase.
This finding shows that 196 million adults over the age of 60 may be partially or even completely blind because of macular degeneration by 2020 and 288 by the year 2040.
Though macular degeneration is mostly seen to affect the population of older adults, it is not exclusive to that group. The problem can also affect others such as people who have a poor diet, nutritional deficiencies, are heavy-smokers, and have a risk of developing diabetes.
According to the research, preventing macular degeneration is possible by having foods with vitamins that protect the vision and eyes in the daily intake along with safeguarding the eyes from smoke, sun, and having a healthy lifestyle in general.
What Is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a well-known disorder of the eyes that primarily affects the retina leading to changes in the vision. Patients with the disorder begin to lose the sharpness and clarity of their eyesight in the early stages.
As the disease progresses, the vision becomes worse and people might see spotted, distorted, dark, cloudy, and enlarged images.
The retina in the eye is the lining of nerves situated at the back and has the function of responding to the light. The nerve cells in the retina reflect the light wavelengths and help create a focused, clear, and sharp image.
In macular degeneration, a part of the retina known as the macula is damaged. The macula forms the central vision or in simple words, the image a person sees when looking straight.
The disorder can affect people from any age group depending on factors such as unhealthy habits like smoking, nutritional deficiencies, and poor diets although people over sixty are seen to have a comparatively higher risk.
Since the highest number of macular degeneration cases is seen in the older adults age group, it is also referred to as age-related macular degeneration or AMS. The disorder is mainly divided into two groups – wet macular degeneration or dry macular degeneration.
The dry type of macular degeneration occurs more often and is diagnosed in 90 percent of the cases. It has also been seen that the dry type can lead to the wet type, which is even worse and can cause great damage to the vision.
Uncured macular degeneration can progress into neovascular age-related macular degeneration or what is commonly referred to as wet macular degeneration. It can also progress to another type of AMD called late-dry macular degeneration or geographic atrophy.
When a person suffers from macular degeneration, the end-products or metabolic wastes are amalgamated under the retina which causes changes in the eyesight and scarring.
This is the most common and basic type of macular degeneration. Patients experiencing this start seeing changes in their vision over time due to the gradual breakdown of the light-sensitive cells in the macula.
On the other hand, wet macular degeneration is different and triggers the growth of leaky blood vessels in the retina leading to bleeding and swelling in the affected parts of the eyes. Patient with wet macular degeneration can either have slow developments or sudden loss of vision depending on the person.
Though this type of age-related macular degeneration is not as common as dry macular degeneration, it is much more serious comparatively. In fact, a majority of the cases of macular generation leading to legal blindness are caused by wet macular degeneration.
What Are The Symptoms of Macular Degeneration?
Understanding the signs of macular degeneration can be a bit complicated since they can vary from person to person. Some people experience instant symptoms along with serious issues like sudden loss of vision.
Others can see different signs as the disease progresses and can have much slower changes in the vision. Some people might even have almost normal functioning of the eyes while having macular generation but since the disease is progressive it is bound to get worse as time passes.
It is also important to note that a person can either have macular degeneration in both of the eyes or in the retina of one eye only.
In the latter case, the retina of the unaffected eye starts to compensate for the other. This is why diagnosing the disease can be harder when only one eye is damaged.
The signs and symptoms of macular degeneration include:
- Blurred center vision (not being able to see the center of the view when looking straight)
- Curving and distorting of straight lines
- Big and numerous small ‘blank’ spots in the center of the vision
- Some people might see colors becoming more or less bright and vivid
- Difficulty in reading, writing, and other everyday tasks
- Complete loss of vision and legal blindness (in advanced macular degeneration)
What Are The Causes Of Macular Degeneration?
Although there is a large amount of data and research on macular degeneration and its different forms, researchers have stated that there is much more to learn about why the disease developed because its pathogenesis is multi-factorial and involves genetic, metabolic, functional and environmental factors.
According to a report published in the Lancet States, the following can increase the risk of developing macular degeneration greatly:
Smoking cigarettes can have a number of disadvantages. It is not only bad for the lungs but also for the eyes and can cause macular degeneration.
- Being over the age of sixty
The risk of developing the advanced type of the disorder and macular degeneration in general increases by two percent after a person crosses the age of 50. People over the age of 75 have a thirty percent higher risk of having macular degeneration.
- Other health issues
A person who suffers from diabetes or cardiovascular diseases has comparatively bigger chance of developing macular degeneration. In addition, other health conditions such as fluctuating blood sugar levels and high blood pressure might also increase the risk.
- UV light damage due to over-exposure to the sun
- Nutritional deficiencies
People who have poor diets can greatly increase their risk of macular degeneration as eating too many processed foods and having a low antioxidant intake can accelerate the process of aging in the body.
Secondly, people who unable to absorb nutrients from the diet or digest food properly due to other digestive/absorption disorders can also develop macular degeneration due to nutritional deficiencies.
Inflammation is said to be the root cause of many diseases including macular degeneration as high levels of inflammation combined with oxidative damage can lead to damage to the extracellular matrix, angiogenic and lipid pathways.
Having a family history of loss of vision or specific genetic factors can increase the risk of having macular degeneration.