Macular symptoms include deterioration of photoreceptor cells in the retina, accumulation of plaque-like cells called drusen, thinning or depletion of the macular pigment, abnormal growth of blood vessels behind the retina, and fluid build-up inside the eye.
All of these are signs of macular degeneration, an eye disease that occurs in approximately 9% of the population over age 65. Unfortunately, sometimes these symptoms go unnoticed until the disease progresses to its later stages. In the early phases of macular degeneration, patients don’t notice any change in vision. Yet there are steps that can be taken to halt the progress of the disease if it’s diagnosed in time. Eye care professionals can diagnose macular degeneration with a few tests, so it’s important to undergo regular eye exams. Guidelines recommend that people over age 40 have an eye examination at least once every year.
The reason why most AMD symptoms go unnoticed is because they only start showing in the intermediate and advanced stages of the disease. On top of that, symptoms differ depending on the version of the disease – wet or dry macular degeneration.
Symptoms experienced by patients with macular degeneration include:
- Loss of colour perception
- Need for bright light when doing close work
- Blurred effect when reading
- Haziness of vision
- Dark blur or white-out in central visual field
- Straight lines look wavy
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: there is no cure for macular degeneration, but various treatments have proven effective at dealing with symptoms, slowing down the progression of the disease and even halting and reverting macular degeneration. Most cases of macular degeneration begin with the “dry” version of the disease. Some cases will progress to advanced-stage dry macular degeneration, and some patients will develop “wet” macular degeneration, a more acute version of the disease.
Dry macular degeneration is characterized by deterioration of photoreceptor cells in the centre of the retina. Wet macular degeneration involves abnormal blood vessels that form behind the retina and leak fluid and blood into the eye.
New treatments for dry macular degeneration have recently been developed, after research found a correlation between the depletion of the macular pigment, a protective substance in the macula, and vision loss. Patients diagnosed with early stages of dry macular degeneration may benefit greatly from supplements containing antioxidant vitamins, zinc, Omega-3 fatty acids, and the three carotenoids that make up the macular pigment: lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin. In many cases, supplementation with a combination of the three carotenoids restored pigment density and led to an improvement in visual acuity.
Treatment for wet macular degeneration includes laser surgery, photodynamic therapy, and anti-VEGF drugs injected directly into the vitreous humor in order to stem the proliferation of abnormal blood vessels.
Other therapies are in development, including the implantation of a tiny telescope that would maximize the ability of remaining photoreceptors.
If the disease progresses to the advanced stage, patients with macular degeneration often suffer a loss of independence. Central vision is affected, and this is the detailed vision in the centre of the visual field that allows us to read, drive, and perform many household tasks. Macular degeneration can force otherwise healthy individuals to become dependent.