Are you at risk for macular degeneration?

April 13, 2018, Pennsylvania State University
Credit: Pennsylvania State University

Many people accept deteriorating eyesight as an inevitable part of getting older, but blurry or distorted vision – such as when straight lines appear wavy – could be signs of age-related macular degeneration.

The condition is the most common cause of severe vision loss in people age 50 and older in developed countries. It occurs when waste products build up underneath the retina, which prevents cells in the retina from getting the nutrition they need. As a result, the retinal cells degenerate and eventually die, and may grow underneath the retina.

The retina is the sensory tissue that lines the inner surface of the back of the eyeball. It converts light rays into impulses that travel through the optic nerve to our brain, where they are interpreted as the images we see.

"The symptoms of age-related macular degeneration develop as people get older, and many times people think the symptoms are due to a cataract or are an inevitable part of aging, so they don't go to get a dilated eye examination," said Dr. Ingrid U. Scott, the Jack and Nancy Turner Professor of Ophthalmology and professor of public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, and a vitreoretinal specialist at Penn State Eye Center.

The condition typically begins gradually and is a result of aging and cumulative exposure to risk factors such as cigarette smoking, sunlight and dietary factors.

Genetics also play a role in who develops macular degeneration. Caucasians are at a higher risk for developing it than African-Americans, as may be individuals with elevated blood pressure or cholesterol.

As the nation's population ages, Scott said the prevalence of the condition is expected to increase. About 1.7 million people age 40 and older have been estimated to have the disease.

There are two forms of age-related macular degeneration – the dry form, which is responsible for about 80 percent of cases, and the wet form, which is less common but responsible for nearly 90 percent of severe vision loss due to the disease.

While there is no medical treatment for the dry form of the disease, doctors may recommend an antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplement, as well as lifestyle modifications to try to slow its progression. A series of injections of medication into the eye can result in some vision improvement for many individuals with the wet form of the disease.

Because the condition is diagnosed through a dilated retinal exam, Scott said it's important for people in their 50s and older to get annual dilated eye examinations. "Initially, people may be unaware of symptoms of the disease, especially if the symptoms are present in only one eye, so people may not even be aware that they have the ," she said.

It is possible to lower your risk, though. A healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and a diet rich in antioxidants can help to decrease the risk of , as can smoking cessation and controlling cholesterol and high . Limiting exposure to the sun's harmful rays can also help.

Explore further: Annual eye exam is vital if you have diabetes

Related Stories

Annual eye exam is vital if you have diabetes

March 8, 2018
(HealthDay)—A yearly eye exam is a key part of diabetes treatment, experts say.

Macular degeneration linked to aging immune cells

April 5, 2018
As people age, their immune systems age, too. And new research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that aging immune cells increase the risk for age-related macular degeneration, a major cause ...

Researchers test stem cell-based retinal implant for common cause of vision loss

April 4, 2018
Physicians and researchers at the USC Roski Eye Institute have collaborated with other California institutions to show that a first-in-kind stem cell-based retinal implant is feasible for use in people with advanced dry age-related ...

Clinical trial tests cord-blood cells to treat macular degeneration

July 20, 2016
UIC is part of a national phase 2 clinical trial to evaluate the safety and tolerability of using cells derived from multipotent umbilical cord cells to treat age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of vision ...

New laser scanners shed light on eye disease before vision loss occurs

December 22, 2017
SFU engineering science professor Marinko Sarunic has developed a high resolution retinal imaging scanner that will one day revolutionize eye care, helping ophthalmologists diagnose eye diseases before vision loss occurs.

New model for hard-to-study form of blindness paves way for future research

September 6, 2017
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in older adults, but scientists have long struggled to study and replicate key elements of the disease in the lab. A study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Recommended for you

Widespread errors in 'proofreading' cause inherited blindness

October 12, 2018
Mistakes in "proofreading" the genetic code of retinal cells is the cause of a form of inherited blindness, retinitis pigmentosa (RP) caused by mutations in splicing factors.

Gene therapy breakthrough in treating rare form of blindness

October 9, 2018
Positive results of the world's first gene therapy trial for a genetic cause of blindness known as choroideremia have been reported in Nature Medicine.

Gene changes driving myopia reveal new focus for drug development

October 9, 2018
Myopia (nearsightedness) and hyperopia (farsightedness) develop through different molecular pathways, according to a new study publishing October 9 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Andrei Tkatchenko of Columbia ...

Dynamin-binding protein linked to congenital cataracts

October 4, 2018
Cataracts, a condition in which the eyes' natural lenses get clouded, are the most common cause of vision loss in older people and can be corrected by routine surgery. But congenital cataracts, which occur in infants and ...

Eye discovery to pave way for more successful corneal transplants

October 1, 2018
A team of eye specialists at The University of Nottingham has made another novel discovery that could help to improve the success of corneal transplants for patients whose sight has been affected by disease.

New study confirms Mediterranean diet prevents a leading cause of blindness

October 1, 2018
Evidence is mounting that a poor diet plays an important role in the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in the United States. A large collaboration of researchers from the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.