As of now, about 11 million people in the United States are affected by macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of irreversible blindness and visual impairment globally. Unfortunately, the number of people affected by macular degeneration in the US is expected to double by 2050, thanks to an aging population.
As ophthalmology experts, the team here at Suburban Eye Associates wants to touch on this subject in this month’s blog because one of the biggest weapons in combating macular degeneration is understanding your risks.
Here’s a look at what occurs when you have macular degeneration and whether you may be at risk.
Macular degeneration basics
Your retina, which is located at the back of your eye, is the area of your eye that receives light, which it converts into signals that it sends to your brain through your optic nerve. When your brain receives the information, it creates an image, enabling your vision.
With macular degeneration, an area of your retina called the macula becomes damaged, which causes problems with your central vision. This eye disease is progressive — at first you may have problems focusing on objects in front of you, though your peripheral vision remains intact.
As the eye disease progresses, the loss of central vision increases and, in its most severe form, you lose sight altogether.
It’s also important to note that there are two types of macular degeneration:
This develops as your macula thins and clumps of protein called drusen form, causing central vision loss. Of all cases of macular degeneration, the dry type accounts for 80%, making it the far more common type of this disease.
Wet macular degeneration occurs when new blood vessels form under your retina and these vessels can leak, which damages your retina. This form of macular degeneration is very serious and causes rapid vision loss.
Now that we better understand macular degeneration, let’s take a look at the most common risk factors for this eye disease.
Your risks for macular degeneration
While we’ve been referring to this eye problem as macular degeneration, most people refer to it as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which provides us with the biggest risk factor — your age. In fact, AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50.
The reason why age plays such a large role is that your macula weakens with time.
While age plays a central role in whether you’re at risk for AMD, there are other factors that can accelerate AMD or cause it to develop prematurely, including:
- A family history of AMD
- Race — white people are more vulnerable
- Carrying too much weight
- Eating too many fats
- High blood pressure or high cholesterol
- Pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease
We present this list to underscore the point that while there may be nothing you can do about aging, you can take some important steps toward mitigating other factors. Losing weight and changing your dietary habits, for example, can help to eliminate several of the risk factors we’ve just outlined.
Another important step in better managing AMD is to make sure that you come see us regularly for routine eye care so we can check for the earliest signs of a problem. If we see the early development of AMD, we can put together a treatment plan that can help preserve your vision.
To learn more about AMD or to schedule your eye exam, please contact one of our locations in Huntingdon Valley, Jenkintown, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to set up an appointment.