If you are interested in seeing what having macular degeneration looks like, here is a great link to the sight simulator on the Fred Hollows Foundation website, which offers you a sense of what it is like to have visual impairment.
What is the macula?
The macula is the central area of the retina, the nerve tissue lining the back of the eye. The special cells of the macula, called cones, allow us to see colour, faces, and fine detail. They are some of the most metabolically active cells in the body, so over time, they can wear out. This process of ageing is also known as oxidative damage and may be accelerated by smoking, drinking, eating harmful foods and other forms of physical, mental and emotional stress.
What are drusen?
As the cells of the macula become less efficient, their waste products, called drusen, can build up under the cells. We can see this when we look into the eyes.
What is dry macular degeneration?
Over time, this wear and tear can lead to dry macular degeneration, which is the more common, but currently untreatable condition.
Dry macular degeneration usually develops quietly and slowly, over years to decades. There is no known treatment at this stage, but the process may be prevented or slowed with the use of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories. These include the water soluble vitamins A, C and E. Lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin may also be of help, as may trace elements and minerals such as selenium and zinc, and anti-inflammatory agents such as bilberry.
Supplements have been shown to be of benefit if taken when drusen – the yellow spots which are the early signs of macular degeneration – are present, but not if you have no sign of macular degeneration at all.
What is wet macular degeneration?
Less commonly, blood vessels can grow in to the macula, and can leak or bleed, causing wet macular degeneration. This can be treated, but the treatment consists of laser or regular injections into the eye, so it is a treatment you would rather not need!
Wet macular degeneration can develop quite quickly and dramatically. Prevention with regular anti-oxidants is important. Early detection is key, as treatment is now available if the process is detected in the early stages. Tests are available to detect macular degeneration in its early stages – OCT, fundus photography and fluorescein angiography – and treatment is now available.
This is why regular eye examinations are important as we age, so that we know if we are at risk of this condition and so that we know what to seek help for. Symptoms include blurring or distortion of the central vision, particularly for reading and seeing faces.
What can I do?
You can test your macula at home every day using an Amsler grid, testing each eye separately with your glasses on, and if you notice any change, let your eye doctor know promptly.
Prevention is key, and if you are really interested in preventing eye disease, the best thing to do is to care for the whole of you, as your eyes are part of you!
The diet that is good for the eyes, is also the best diet for the whole of us: Lean meat, oily fish, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and a little fruit (not too much, as it’s full of sugar!)
Taking supplements can help, if your diet is poor or if you have early stage disease.
You can stop smoking, drinking, eating margarine and other engineered fats and oils, and limiting your intake of high carbohydrate processed foods (which can be inflammatory).
You can look in the mirror and learn to love what you see, look out and appreciate life, and make the most of every day, focusing on what you do have and letting go of the past, so the future is something to look forward to.
Please Contact the Clinic if you would like to know more.