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What is Macular Degeneration and What are the Risks?

Often viewed as an age-related condition, macular degeneration is currently one of the largest contributing factors to vision loss (even more so than cataract and glaucoma). It is also considered to be incurable, as of now.

What is Macular Degeneration?

Macular Degeneration is essentially the slow deterioration of the central portion of someone’s retina. The Retina is the part of the eye that controls the images we see – it is the thin layer on which images are projected and preserved, before sending them to the brain via the optic nerve.

The central portion of the retina is called the macula – and the degeneration of this is what contributes to MD vision loss. A healthy macula makes it possible for people to be able to recognize faces, drive, consume visual media, use smartphones and devices, and more.

If the eye were to be compared to a camera, the macula is the equivalent of the film in the camera that captures all of the images. A slightly damaged film will capture slightly blurry images, but a fully damaged one will result in little to no image.

Similarly, with the retina, a partially degenerated macula will result in wavy and blurry vision, but the more it deteriorates over time, the more the vision will be affected. Eventually, it can lead to complete central vision loss – and even be classified as legal blindness.

Types of Macular Degeneration

There are essentially two types of Macular Degeneration – Dry and Wet.

Dry Macular Degeneration:

This is the most common form of MD and contributes to more than 80% of the MD cases across the world. Generally thought to be less damaging than “wet” MD, it is caused by the slow drying out of the retina. It is caused when small deposits (called drusen) are formed underneath the retina. Eventually, it causes the macula to become thinner and drier.

The initial stages of it are quite common among people over the age of 50 and cause minimal visual impairment. It progresses a lot slower than “wet” MD (although some cases may become wet over time). 

Wet Macular Degeneration:

Wet MD is generally found in 10-15% of MD cases. In this particular case of MD, blood vessels grow under the retina. These blood vessels – called choroidal neovascularization, or CNV) – may bleed or leak fluid, displacing the macula’s position, eventually distorting and destroying vision. Generally, if CNV develops in one eye, the chances of it developing in the other eye are fairly high. Moreover, it is a type of MD that causes rapid deterioration and progresses quickly, leading to more vision loss.

Stargardt Disease

This is an extremely rare form of MD – 1 in 20,000 cases of MD – diagnosed in children and teenagers. Unlike age-related MD, it is contributed to a specific gene strain that these kids are born with (ABCA4 and ELOVL4). Although it has no cure, it takes similar treatment directions to Wet Macular Degeneration.

Causes of Macular Degeneration

There is no specific known cause of Macular Degeneration that is known yet – mainly due to a lack of efficient research and funding. Causes can be contributed to genetics, as well as environmental factors. However, there are major risk factors that have been identified and can be seen as lifestyle guides on how to possibly prevent MD at a later age. Although heredity can’t be controlled, factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, and inactivity are lifestyle choices that can be altered to reduce the risk of MD. It is also said that certain medications – like some antipsychotic drugs and malaria medication (chloroquine) – may increase the risk of MD.

Unknown to many, blue light also aggravates macular degeneration, which is why many choose to use protective glasses and blue light safe lighting to help slow down the progression of MD. Dr. Lite is the first and only company to offer a medical-grade, doctor-recommended line of products designed to keep eyes healthy and prevent damage caused by harmful blue light exposure. Clients around the world who experience macular degeneration symptoms have seen a drastic improvement in their visual acuity, contrast, and mobility with the help of Dr. Lite Lamps.

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