Understanding Macular Degeneration: A Comprehensive Guide

Macular degeneration is a common eye condition, with an estimated 39,800 new cases yearly in the UK.

Your macular is the part of your eye responsible for central vision and part of the retina (light-sensitive tissue layer) at the back of your eye. Your central vision helps you to read, write, drive, and see pictures and faces. Essentially, it’s vital to your vision.

Although macular degeneration won’t cause complete blindness, it can significantly impact your vision. This guide thoroughly explores macular degeneration by examining the causes, types, symptoms and treatment. Keep reading The McIndoe Centre’s comprehensive guide to understanding macular degeneration.

Causes of macular degeneration

Macular degeneration occurs when your macula begins to waste away for a known or unknown reason. The most typical macular degeneration is age-related, and ageing is one of the leading causes.

However, the following can also cause non-age-related macular degeneration:

  • Diabetes
  • Head or eye injuries
  • Infections
  • Nutrient deficiencies (particularly vitamin D)

Some people may be at a higher risk of developing macular degeneration.

Regular risk factors may include:

  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels

Is macular degeneration hereditary?

You can inherit macular degeneration and may have a higher risk of the condition if it’s part of your family history. However, you can still develop macular degeneration without it running in your family.

Types and stages of macular degeneration

The two main types of macular degeneration are dry (atrophic) and wet (exudative).

Dry macular degeneration is the most common type and develops when protein deposits form underneath your macular. Over time, the deposits dry and thin the macular, leading to gradual central vision loss. Sometimes, dry macular degeneration can change into the wet type.

Wet macular degeneration occurs when new blood vessels grow under your retina and macular. These abnormal blood vessels leak blood and fluid, which build up and distort your macular. Wet macular degeneration is less common but more severe and can quickly lead to complete central vision loss.

Wet macular degeneration always starts as dry but cannot return to the dry type.

The three stages of macular degeneration are early, intermediate and late (advanced). Wet macular degeneration is always advanced, whereas dry can be any of the three.

In the early stage, your macular can change, but your vision remains unaffected. In the intermediate phase, your vision may blur. In the late stage of macular degeneration, you may lose your central vision completely.

Symptoms of macular degeneration

Central vision loss is the primary symptom of macular degeneration but can also cause additional vision problems.

Other symptoms of macular degeneration include:

  • Struggling to see in low light
  • Blurry vision
  • Colours looking different
  • Straight lines looking wavy or curved
  • Dark spots in your vision

Diagnosing macular degeneration

Macular degeneration does not usually cause symptoms in the early stage. So, attending regular eye check-ups is vital, especially as you age. During an eye examination, your ophthalmologist will check for changes to your retina and macular.

Some of the tests used to diagnose macular degeneration include:

  • Amsler grid test – you’ll be asked to identify lines or a grid of straight lines with a central dot that looks wavy or blurry. If you see lots of distortion in the grid, it may suggest macular degeneration.
  • Dilated eye examination – your ophthalmologist uses eye drops to dilate your pupils (the black part of your eye that lets in light) and a unique lens to look inside your eye and check your macular.
  • Fluorescein angiography – the ophthalmologist injects a special contrast dye into a vein in your arm, and a camera tracks the dye as it moves through the eye’s blood vessels. The images captured can highlight any leakage underneath your macular.
  • Optical coherence tomography – an imaging machine captures photos of the back of your eye and checks your macular.

Treatment options for macular degeneration

There’s no cure for macular degeneration, but treatment options can manage the condition and slow its progression. Treatment also depends on the type and stage of your macular degeneration.

Currently, there is no treatment available for dry macular degeneration. Instead, experts recommend vision aids to reduce the condition’s impact on your daily life.

Wet macular degeneration treatment

Injections are the most typical treatment for wet macular degeneration.

At The McIndoe Centre, our ophthalmology team perform three types of injections for macular degeneration.

These anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) injections stop the production of VEGF – a type of protein that causes new, abnormal blood vessels to grow.

The ophthalmologist will numb your eye with local anaesthetic eye drops to perform the injection. Then, they will gently insert a very fine needle into the vitreous (gel-fluid that fills your eye).

The injections are carried out at regular intervals for a set amount of time to slow the condition’s progression. You will be advised by your surgeon about the length of time needed.

Prevention strategies for macular degeneration

It’s not always possible to prevent macular degeneration, but you can act to decrease your risk.

You can lower your risk of macular degeneration in the following ways:

  • Giving up smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Managing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels

However, remember that many factors determine whether you develop macular degeneration. However, ageing and a family history of the condition are impossible to change and can affect your overall risk.

One thing you can do is look after your eye health and attend regular eye check-ups. So, if you are at risk of macular degeneration or it’s in the early stages, your ophthalmologist can start treatment sooner rather than later.

You may experience symptoms with dry macular degeneration once it becomes advanced or changes into wet macular degeneration. This aspect makes eye check-ups essential, as you may not notice any symptoms until they become advanced and less treatable.

Macular degeneration treatment at The McIndoe Centre

If you’re experiencing changes in your vision or are worried about macular degeneration, book an appointment with us today.

We’ll advise you on the best treatment for your stage of macular degeneration and provide all the information you need to support your vision long-term.

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