Macular Degeneration - FAQs
What is macular degeneration?
Is macular degeneration always caused by age?
Macular degeneration usually affects people over age 65, which is why the term age-related macular degeneration (AMD) often is used to describe the condition. However, certain drugs can cause macular degeneration, and some cases are inherited, such as Stargardt's disease, which can affect children and young adults.
Is it true that macular degeneration is a growing problem?
Yes. Dr. Burt Dubow, optometrist and AllAboutVision.com board member, explains, "Experts think there are a number of reasons for this: more ultraviolet light in our environment due to a thinning ozone layer, people living longer, environmental pollutants, smoking, poor diet, obesity, etc." Another factor may be our aging population, since the risk for macular degeneration rises with age.
Although there are no sure ways to prevent macular degeneration, you should wear eyeglasses or sunglasses that provide 100 percent UV protection and a brimmed hat when outdoors. You should also consider exercising, not smoking, eating a healthy diet that is high in dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens, etc.) and visiting your eye care practitioner on a regular basis for eye exams to check for AMD.
Who's most at risk for macular degeneration?
If you're over age 65, a smoker, white or have a family member with AMD, you have an increased risk for macular degeneration.
You're also at risk if you take these drugs: Aralen (chloroquine) or phenothiazine derivatives [Thorazine (chlorpromazine), Mellaril (thioridazine), Prolixin (fluphenazine), Trilafon (perphenazine) and Stelazine (trifluoperazine)].
Is there any way to prevent macular degeneration?
Doctors aren't sure how to prevent macular degeneration. Research suggests that ultraviolet light (and possibly blue light) factors into the problem, so sunglasses that block these solar rays might have a protective effect.
What you eat also affects your macula. Researchers think that antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E), zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin and essential fatty acids all can aid in preventing macular degeneration. [Read more about nutrition and eye health.]
Exercising and quitting smoking also might reduce your risk of AMD.
An Amsler grid consists of straight lines, with a reference dot in the center. Someone with macular degeneration may see some of the lines as wavy or blurred, with some dark areas at the center. Click here to try an Amsler grid test yourself.
(If you can't see the image, you may need Flash Player.)
What are the signs and symptoms of macular degeneration?
Early signs of macular degeneration include: straight lines appearing wavy, fuzzy vision, and shadowy areas in your central vision. Your eye doctor may find indicators before you have any symptoms, so regular eye exams can mean an early diagnosis.
One way to tell if you are having these vision problems is to view an Amsler grid, which is a chart of black lines arranged in a graph pattern. Click here to see how an Amsler grid works.
What are the different types of macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is classified as either dry or wet. The dry form is more common than the wet (about 90 percent of patients). It may result from the aging and thinning of macular tissues, depositing of pigment in the macula or a combination of the two.
In the wet form, new blood vessels grow beneath the retina and leak blood and fluid. This leakage causes retinal cells to die and creates blind spots in central vision.
Is macular degeneration curable?
No, but treatment can slow or even stop the progression of the wet form, so the earlier you're diagnosed, the better.
What macular degeneration treatments are currently available?
Lucentis received FDA approval in June 2006 for treatment of wet macular degeneration, and has shown very positive results for preventing additional vision loss. Vision often is improved with Lucentis. The drug works by preventing development of abnormal blood vessels in the inner back of the eye, as does another FDA-approved drug known as Macugen. [Read more about the newest FDA-approved treatments for macular degeneration.]
Visudyne was the first drug therapy for the wet form of age-related macular degeneration (specifically, patients with predominantly classic subfoveal choroidal neovascularization). Visudyne is used in combination with a laser in a type of treatment called photodynamic therapy. Visudyne can stabilize or even improve vision.
Photocoagulation is a type of laser surgery that can sometimes slow vision loss in patients with the wet form of macular degeneration.
Some doctors also recommend antioxidant and zinc supplementation, which a recent study found to reduce patients' risk of developing advanced AMD by 28 percent.
Patients with vision problems caused by macular degeneration often can benefit from low vision devices to help them read, use a computer and more.
[Page updated May 2014]