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It's normal for our vision to change as we get older. But some of the changes that occur can indicate serious underlying problems. (Read about "The Eye")
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) says one of the most common causes of severe vision loss for people over the age of 65 is age-related macular degeneration. The macula, in the central part of the retina, is what lets us see things in the middle of our field of vision. In the most common type of age-related macular degeneration (the "dry" form), the macula thins, leading to some loss of vision. The second form of age-related macular degeneration (the "wet" form) occurs in about ten percent of the cases. In this less common but more serious disorder, new blood vessels grow beneath the retina and leak, creating a blind spot in the middle of your field of vision.
The vast majority of cases of macular degeneration occur in people over the age of 60. But it can also occur in children. The MD Foundation, Inc. says even infants and young children can develop juvenile macular degeneration, an inherited disorder, caused by mutated genes. Macular Degeneration International (MDI) says juvenile or early-onset macular degeneration affects between 30,000 and 50,000 people in the U.S. Juvenile macular degeneration is also known as Stargardt's disease.
Although the symptoms of macular degeneration can develop earlier, NIA says that it is by far the most common in people over the age of 60. Symptoms to watch out for include:
The symptoms can be similar in another condition called macular hole. However, macular hole and macular degeneration are two different things. (Read about "Macular Hole")
The National Eye Institute (NEI) says the biggest risk factor for macular degeneration is age, with those over the age of 75 having a thirty percent chance of developing the disease. In addition, women and those with a family history (Read about "Family Health History") of macular degeneration are at a higher risk. NEI says smoking may increase your risk as well. (Read about "Quit Smoking")
If you or someone you know develops any of these symptoms, see an ophthalmologist right away. A doctor can advise you on the best course of action, as well as providing you with information on different types of vision aids such as magnifying and lighting devices. Although macular degeneration can't be cured, the American Academy of Ophthalmology says laser surgery can be helpful for those with the wet form of macular degeneration. In addition, for the wet form of this disease, the FDA has approved a treatment called Photodynamic Laser Therapy. The American Macular Degeneration Foundation says this therapy uses a light-activated drug to seal off leaking vessels while leaving healthy ones intact. Also for the wet form, a treatment is now available that is administered by injection into the eye. The vision loss in wet AMD is caused by the growth of abnormal leaky blood vessels that eventually damage the area of the eye responsible for central vision. This treatment is designed to block new blood vessel growth and leakiness.
Although treatment usually cannot restore vision that has been lost, it may be able to slow the progress of the disease. If you suspect macular degeneration, talk with your doctor about your options as soon as possible.
It's also important to see an eye doctor regularly even if you don't have any symptoms. (Read about "Eye Exams") Many eye problems are best controlled when you start treating them early. So ask your eye specialist how often you need to schedule eye exams. Following that advice can help keep your vision in better shape now as well as in the future.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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