The macula is the middle area of the retina which allows human beings to see very detailed images in the center field of their vision. The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina and is the nerve-rich portion of the back of the eye that is necessary for sight. When these cells start to deteriorate (usually after the age of 60), the resulting blurred or distorted vision is called macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is the cause of approximately 50 percent of all visual impairment in individuals who are over the age of 50 in the developed world.
Causes of Macular degeneration
This condition first begins with the deterioration of the retinal pigment epithelium, which is a membrane that is located between the choroid (a layer of blood vessels behind the retina) and the retina. The membrane serves as a “biter” for the retina, allowing nutrients from the bloodstream to come in but blocking other substances which are harmful. When this filtering system breaks down, the retina is adversely affected.
Two different forms of macular degeneration are currently known. The most common type is dry form, in which a thinning of the macular tissues leads to gradual loss of vision. As this is the first stage of the disorder, a small percentage of patients then go on to develop the much more severe “wet” form of the condition. In this stage, abnormal blood vessels grow beneath the retina, leaking blood or fluid and destroying the nerve tissues in the retina.
The loss of vision connected with wet macular degeneration often happens very quickly and is severe in nature.
While science has not given the exact cause of macular degeneration, the changes in the eyes which are related to aging seem to be the biggest culprit.
Symptoms of Macular degeneration
Some of the symptoms of macular degeneration include:
- Blurring of the central sight of vision in the eye
- A gradual distortion of vision
- Difficulty when reading
- Fading of colors
How Macular degeneration is Diagnosed
This condition can be diagnosed during the course of a normal eye exam which includes a vision test and a general inspection of the macula. The test makes use of an Amsler grid, which is a chart that looks like graph paper with a black dot in the center of it. The patient looks at the dot with one eye at a time, and if any of the lines seem to be blurred, dark or wavy, the cause is most likely macular degeneration.
This test can be used at home so patients with known macular degeneration can detect changes in their condition and alert their physician to progression of the disease.
Macular degeneration Treatment
All cases of known macular degeneration should be followed by a qualified physician. While there is currently no treatment for dry macular degeneration, laser surgeries can be effective for some cases of wet macular degeneration. A diet which is high in carotenoids and lutein may help to delay severe progression of the disease.
Moderate exercise and the use of relaxation techniques may be beneficial to some patients. Yoga and exercise are known to increase the blood flow, and the eyes may benefit by such a situation.
A diet which is high in berries, and particularly blueberries, provides high antioxidant content and could be helpful in treating this condition. Bilberry may also be beneficial.
Natural health care practitioners frequently recommend a diet which is essential for healthy liver and blood function when treating this condition, to include loquat, pineapple, chives, persimmon, grapes, duck, lotus, yam, celery, tangerine and chicken livers. Foods which nourish the liver may also be helpful in treating macular degeneration, to include black sesame seeds and string beans. Foods to be avoided include those which are pungent and warm, such as spring onions, garlic, chilies and peppers, dried ginger and wine.
Orange, yellow and green leafy vegetables would be good choices for the diet. Fruits such as dark cherries would also be wise.
Individuals with macular degeneration can take 15 mg of lutein with a meal. Fish oils have also been known to reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Protein is a healthy choice for eye health as well.
Prevention of Macular degeneration
Although age-related changes cannot be stopped (at least at the present time), one can avoid prolonged exposure to the sun and the use of cigarettes to help prevent macular degeneration. Avoid going out during midday when the sun is at its peak. Or, when outdoors wear a hat and sunglasses to block the ultraviolet light. Try to avoid second-hand smoke as well.
A diet which is high in saturated fats and cholesterol may be responsible for increasing the risk of macular degeneration. Eating fruits and nuts may be helpful, as well as eating kale and spinach, which are known to have large amounts of antioxidants. Gingko, clove and peanut may also be helpful.
Two antioxidants in particular (lutein and zeaxanthin) may help to reduce the risk of developing this condition. In research studies to date, there does not seem to be as much benefit found in consuming the antioxidants found in vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc to prevent this condition, although these may be helpful later on as the macular degeneration worsens.
Who is at Risk
Individuals who are over the age of 50 or 60 tend to develop this condition. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in elderly people. Some health care practitioners believe that hypertension, high cholesterol and regular exposure to strong sunlight can also play a key role in the development of macular degeneration.
There is a greater risk of macular degeneration if one smokes cigarettes or is farsighted. Also, individuals with light-colored eyes and a family history of this condition are also known to be at a greater risk.
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