Imagine taking a pair of glasses and slathering a thumb of bacon grease about the size of a quarter onto the center of each lens. Now try looking through them. You’ve just experienced macular degeneration.
Good news is you now know how bad it can be. The bad news is, if you don’t take good care of your vision and get eye exams at least once a year, beginning at age 60 at the latest, you’re probably gambling with your vision.
Macular degeneration refers to the deterioration of the macula, which is at the dead center of your eye. It contains all your cones for color vision, and is also the critical part of the eye for sharp detail. It’s crucial for everyday tasks like reading letters or the newspaper, discerning the features on a person’s face or driving.
If you were to take the macula away, you’d be able to see things on the periphery of your vision, but you wouldn’t be able to see anything straight ahead.
Think of it like it’s a donut. With macular degeneration, you’ll still be able to see what’s around the edges, all that nice glaze and yummy, pastel-colored sprinkles. But look to the middle; nothing there.
Up in this part of the country, we’re at a much higher risk of developing macular degeneration in our lifetimes than in other regions of the country. That’s because people with light-colored skin and light-colored eyes, like northern Europeans, have a much higher predilection for the disease. And even as our communities and states become more diverse, the ancestors for a majority of North Dakotans and Minnesotans came from northern Europe.
Age is also a factor. Macular degeneration is the leading reason a person above 50 in the United States has severe vision loss. Generally, we don’t see it under age 50, and it usually becomes troublesome for people in their 70’s or 80’s.
Other risk factors:
The symptoms can creep up on you. Your ability to focus and see clearly gradually diminishes, shapes begin to appear distorted and straight lines can look crooked. Ultimately, there could be a blank or empty spot in the center of your vision, like a not-so-yummy donut.
There are two types of macular degeneration, “dry” and “wet.”
About 90 percent of people with the disease have the dry type. However, if it’s not treated early and properly, it can progress and become “wet.”
With the dry version, little cracks form in the macula and blood vessels want to go through them. These new blood vessels are very thin and can break.
Typically, the progression of the dry version of the disease is slow. There’s no cure, but dietary supplements, specifically nutraceuticals (a fancy word for vitamins), zeaxanthin and lutein, can help.
PreserVision products, which have been out for about 15 years and have had about 15 years of studies completed on them, can help, too. PreserVision supplements help seal the little cracks that form in the macula.
Decreasing your eyes’ exposure to sunlight also can help ward off the progression of macular degeneration.
Through tiny cracks, typical of dry macular degeneration, new blood vessels may break, causing a sudden rush of fluid, which leads to scarring. This is the wet type of the disease, and when it hits, you’ll suddenly have dramatically blurred vision.
There’s a fantastic drug, Avastin, which was initially developed for treating colon cancer, that can be injected into eyes to treat wet macular degeneration.
Cancer tissue needs huge supplies of blood. The anti-cancer drugs, like this Avastin, shrink the new blood vessels that are trying to grow through the cracks. The drug cauterizes the blood vessels preventing leakage in the eye.
Detection is key, so it all starts with eye exams.
At Lifetime Vision, we do complete retinal evaluations for diabetes and hypertension, as well as visual field testing for diseases like glaucoma and may even reveal brain tumors. Both are effective in detecting macular degeneration.
Not only are we looking in the back of the eye to detect early dry changes, but now we have the technology available to detect tiny amounts of fluid in the retina and get people treated before it starts affecting a person’s quality of life.
After all, when you take your grandkids to the donut shop, you’re going to want to see those sprinkles clearly.