Macular degeneration affects more than 10 million Americans and is the No. 1 cause of blindness. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with macular degeneration or if you suspect that you’re at risk, arming yourself with knowledge can go a long way in helping you protect your vision.
It’s important to know the factors that may increase your chances of developing this eye disease. Could you be at risk for macular degeneration and not know it?
Macular degeneration happens when a part of your retina, the macula, becomes damaged. Your retina is the light-receiving part of your eye where visual images are formed. When light enters your eye, the retina turns the light into signals and forwards them to the optic nerve in your brain where they’re translated into visual images. In simple terms, the retina tells your brain what you’re seeing.
In people with macular degeneration, the center field of your vision becomes dark, blurry, and distorted. Macular degeneration is commonly called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and it’s the leading cause of severe vision loss in Americans over 65.
In some people, AMD progresses slowly. They may not experience vision loss for quite some time. In other people, however, AMD progresses faster and can lead to vision loss in one or both eyes.
During the early stages of macular degeneration, most people retain their vision. Because you may not have symptoms at this stage, it’s typically discovered during a routine eye exam.
Some vision loss typically occurs at this stage but may be subtle enough that you don’t notice symptoms. If you have one or more risk factors for macular degeneration, comprehensive eye exams are crucial because they can pick up AMD at earlier stages.
At the late stage of macular degeneration, your vision can be significantly impaired. Straight lines may look wavy, and the center of your field of vision may appear fuzzy. You may find it difficult to see facial expressions, and you may struggle read, write, and perform common daily tasks.
A variety of factors increase your risk for AMD. Age and family history are major risk factors for AMD, and these factors are outside of your control. People who are 60 and older and have a family history of AMD are at an increased risk for developing this eye disease.
The good news is some risk factors are under your control. Research shows that smoking and hypertension are the two largest controllable risk factors for AMD.
Smoking is bad news for your eyes and significantly increases the risk of eye diseases, including macular degeneration. Smoking harms your blood vessels and can damage vessels that provide oxygenated blood and nutrients to your eyes.
Additionally, cigarettes contain chemicals that increase free radicals — unstable molecules that damage your body. Free radicals travel through your bloodstream and can damage your retina and other parts of your eye. It’s strongly recommended that you quit smoking, especially if you’re at risk for eye diseases like AMD.
Like smoking, uncontrolled high blood pressure damages your blood vessels throughout your body, including those supplying vital oxygenated blood to your eyes. Having long-standing high blood pressure is shown to greatly increase the chances of developing AMD. If you have hypertension, it’s crucial that you get your blood pressure within a healthy range with lifestyle changes and medication if necessary.
The optometrists at Valley Eye Professionals are trained to detect eye problems even before you notice any symptoms. A comprehensive eye exam plays an important role in detecting and treating problems early. Treating eye issues at earlier stages can help you preserve your vision and keep your eyes as healthy as possible.
For all of your eye care needs, schedule an appointment with one of our providers at Valley Eye Professionals by calling our Los Angeles office or requesting one online today.