You've heard about this, but what does it really mean?
The macula is a very small but very important part of the eye. This small area is only a few millimeters in size, but it contains millions of photoreceptor cells which provide the most critical and detailed vision. As these cells age, in some people they begin to deteriorate. As these cells die off, they can cause areas of vision loss that appear as blank spots in the central vision. This can lead to severe vision impairment, and it can cause a significant reduction in quality of life. Age related macular degeneration (ARMD) is one of the most common causes of serious vision loss. As the name implies, this condition presents in older people especially over 50 years of age, but certain other factors can increase your risk.
Well...am I at risk?
Macular degeneration is luckily a rather uncommon problem, but there are certain groups of people at more risk of developing this serious condition. Luckily there are some risk factors that are totally preventable. Smoking significantly increases the risk of developing ARMD over time. Here is one more reason to quit smoking if you needed it! Another important risk factor is exposure to ultraviolet light. Over time, an increased exposure to this high wavelength radiation can cause an increased risk of ARMD. To reduce this risk, it is very important to wear proper UV protective sunglasses especially in this bright Texas sun!
Unfortunately, several very important risk factors are not in our control. Family genetics and race play a large role in increased risk of developing ARMD. People of Caucasian decent are at a much higher risk of ARMD development, but all of the exact genes that are responsible for ARMD are not completely known at this time. Research will hopefully get to a point where a genetic test can accurately predict a person's risk of developing this condition, and due to this genetic link, it is very important to be aware if family members have previously been diagnosed with this condition.
What do I do if I have it?!
It is very important to have regular eye exams in order to be properly screened for this condition. An eye care professional is able to detect very subtle changes in the macular structure even before there is any evidence of vision loss. Our doctors offer advanced imaging techniques that can more accurately detect very subtle retinal changes, so we can more confidently assess your eye health and potential risk of developing this very serious condition. If a diagnosis of ARMD is made, there are certain vitamin supplements that have been shown, along with healthy lifestyle changes, to slow the progression of this condition and ideally prevent further vision loss. In certain advanced cases of ARMD, surgical intervention may also be an option to reduce retinal tissue changes that can lead to vision loss.
The most important thing is to maintain a healthy lifestyle including no smoking. Beyond this, it is important to know your other risk factors based on your age, race and family history. Please schedule your next eye exam, and let the doctors at Optique discuss this condition with you and answer any questions you may have.