Macular degeneration is a disease that affects the eyes. It leads to blurred or no vision, especially in the center of the visual field. This disease doesn’t present with any early symptoms. The symptoms of the disease manifest over time. This disease can affect one eye or the two eyes. In cases where it doesn’t lead to total blindness, it can make it difficult for the patient to read, drive, write, and even perform some basic daily activities. Patients might also experience visual hallucinations. This disease occurs prevalently in older people. There are some factors that play a role in the development of the disease. They include genetics and lifestyle. As an illustration, smoking increases the risk of developing macular degeneration. Physicians diagnose this disease by performing a complete examination of the patient’s eyes. This disease can be categorized based on severity. This includes early, intermediate and late. The late macular degeneration can also be divided into dry and wet macular degeneration. Macular degeneration can be prevented by exercising well, eating well, and also avoiding smoking. This disease has no cure yet or treatment that could restore vision that is completely lost. Stem cells are capable of regenerating and repairing the damaged tissues of the macula.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration initially shows no symptoms, however, it starts presenting with symptoms as the disease progresses. Some of the symptoms of this disease are
- Reduction in visual acuity: Patients suffering from macular degeneration, usually experiences a sharp reduction in their visual acuity. As an illustration, their vision might drop from a 20/20 vision to a 20/80.
- Problem identifying colours: Macular degeneration patients generally have problems discerning between colours. For example, they might have problems differentiating between light tones, or light colours from dark colours.
- Blurred vision: Macular degeneration can be divided into two. There are those that have exudative macular degeneration. This set of patients experience a rapid loss of vision. On the other hand, some patients have the non-exudative macular degeneration, which comes with a gradual loss of central vision.
- Difficulty in identifying straight lines: This condition presents like metamorphopsia. The patient sees straight lines as wavy, and might not even see some of the lines entirely. This becomes more evident when they try looking at poles that are arranged in a straight line, or just watching an army of more solid lined up in a straight line. They might also experience central scotoma, in which some areas of their vision is blank.
- Problems readjusting after exposure to bright light: Patient usually presents with difficulty adjusting after being exposed to bright light, such as the sun. This is one of the tests that could be used in diagnosing this condition. This test is called the photostress
- Lastly, patients might present with the loss of contrast sensitivity.
Age-related macular degeneration does not lead to total blindness, however, it’s capable of causing a lot of damage to vision. As a result of this, only a small number of people suffering from this disease eventually becomes totally blind.
What Are The Risk Factors Of Macular Degeneration?
These are factors that increase the chances of developing the disease. Some of the factors include the following;
- Age: Macular degeneration mostly occurs in old adults. This makes age the most important factor in the development of the disease.
- Family history: People that have close relatives that are affected with the disease have a high risk of also developing the disease.
- Smoking: Studies have shown that smoking significantly increases the chances of developing macular degeneration.
- Hypertension: There is a direct link between high blood pressure and macular degeneration. This disease tends to occur more in people affected by hypertension.
- Hyperlipidemia: This is the condition in which an individual has an excess amount of fat in the body. A high amount of fat and cholesterol in the body increases the risk of having age-related macular degeneration
- Weight: Obesity and being overweight increases the risk of developing macular degeneration.
What Are the Types of Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
Age-related macular degeneration can be divided into two types. These are the dry and the wet form.
- Dry age-related macular degeneration: Dry age-related macular degeneration is characterized by blurred central vision. It might initially affect one eye but might affect both eyes as the disease progresses. This condition can lead to the loss of the ability to perform simple tasks, such as driving, cooking, reading and so on. There is the presence of drunsen in the macula. Drunsens are yellow deposits. A little quantity of these drunsens might not cause significant changes in the patient’s vision, however, they might reduce the patient’s vision as they get bigger in size. In severe cases of this condition, there might be atrophy of the macula, subsequently leading to the death of the macular
- Wet age-related macular degeneration: This form of macular degeneration is characterized by neovascularization. This is the growth of abnormal blood vessels from the choroid, beneath the macula. Blood leaks from the blood vessel into the retina, leading to the impairment of vision
How Is Macular Degeneration Diagnosed?
Physicians diagnose this disease based on the presenting symptoms of the patient, also expose the patient to some tests. Some of the eye tests include the Snellen chart, Amsler grid and so on.
How Is Macular Degeneration Currently Treated?
The dry form of macular degeneration has no treatment. On the other hand, the wet form of macular degeneration can be treated with medications. In addition to this laser, coagulation is also an effective treatment method.
Stem Cell Therapy of Macular Degeneration
Active research is currently ongoing on how to replace rods and cones. For example, induced pluripotent cells are used to grow rods and cones. These project when successful might be a good alternative for the replacement of the macula tissues. The stem cells are capable of regenerating and repairing the damaged tissues of the macula.
Bourla, D. and Young, T. (2006). Age-Related Macular Degeneration: A Practical Approach to a Challenging Disease. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 54(7), pp.1130-1135.
Franks, W. (2002). Photodynamic therapy for age-related macular degeneration. Age and Ageing, 31(1), pp.5-6.
Ratnapriya, R. and Chew, E. (2013). Age-related macular degeneration-clinical review and genetics update. Clinical Genetics, 84(2), pp.160-166.