Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMRD) may lead to loss or weakening of vision. Timely identification and treatment can help preventing vision loss or further progression of the disease
By Dr Rajeev Jain
Weakening of eyesight or loss of vision is a factor synonymous with aging. As one crosses the age of 50, problems like blurred vision, weakening of eyesight etc. becomes a common phenomenon. Though, there can be a lot of reasons behind this, but one of the common causes of vision loss while aging is Age Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD).
ARMD is a disease that can cause irreparable loss of vision. This problem occurs when the central part of the retina, known as Macula degenerates. The macula is responsible for central vision of the eye and when it deteriorates, the affected person starts facing problems while reading, driving or recognising faces, as these activities involves central vision. Although, a person suffering from this disease doesn’t completely loses his/her vision in the early stage itself, but the damage caused is quite significant.
Loss or weakening of vision is the primary symptom of ARMD. But, as the disease progresses the patient starts having blurred or wavy vision. In addition to this, problems like distorted vision, partial loss of vision, spotty vision, visual distortion (straight lines appearing wavy), need for brighter light while reading, difficulty in adapting to low lighting, difficulty recognizing faces, difficulty in reading printed words, reduced intensity or brightness of colors; are the other symptoms one should never ignore. This if not treated timely, can worsen the condition.
Medically speaking, Macular Degeneration is majorly of two types: Dry Macular Degeneration and Wet Macular Degeneration. Dry Macular Degeneration is charaterised by formation of yellow deposits (drusen) in the macula. These yellow deposits are actually the debris of the deteriorated tissue inside the eye. This may lead to distorted or dim vision while reading. As the problem progresses, a person starts seeing blind spots or dark spots in their central vision.
The cases of Wet Macular Degeneration are found to be less as compared to Dry Macular Degeneration. It is distinguished by the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the macula, under the retina. When these blood vessels start to ooze blood and fluid to the retina, it leads to distortion of vision which can make a person see straight lines as wavy. The bleeding can eventually lead to scarring which results in blind spots in vision which may lead to permanent loss of central vision.
Besides aging, Macular Degeneration can also be caused as a result of hereditary or environmental factors. Those who smoke or drink are at a greater risk of developing this disease at an early age. As compared to a non smoker, an active smoker has chances of developing age related macular degeneration 5-10 years before. That’s not all; a person who smokes has a greater probability (about 2-3 times more) of developing this disease. Smoking causes adverse effect on anti-oxidant metabolism, which is necessary for a healthy eye film and the macula, causing degeneration. Other factors like obesity and vascular diseases also increase the chances of developing this disease.
Although, ARMD cannot be completely cured, but timely identification and treatment can help preventing vision loss or further progression of the disease. It is advised to have regular eye examinations, especially if you have a family history of vision loss. Also, if you are noticing changes in your central vision or losing the ability to fine details, don’t ignore. These are the primary indicators of this disease; a detailed eye examination can help in early diagnosis and better treatment. Various treatment options are available for treatment of wet ARMD which consists primarily of injections in to the eye. These injections reduce the swelling and blood at the macula thereby improving the quality of vision and eye sight.
Pursuing a healthier lifestyle can help in preventing as well as delaying the occurrence of Macular Degeneration. Exercising along with a good and healthy diet which is rich in antioxidants and multivitamins especially lutein content should be included. Also, avoid smoking as it increases the chances of developing of ARMD. In addition to this, whenever going out in the sun, wear sunglasses which help in preventing eyes from the harmful UV radiation of the sun.
(The author is Eye Surgeon and Director, Save Sight Centre, New Delhi)