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Macular Degeneration Robs Vision in Older Adults

By Kathy Hubbard

Have you ever looked at something you know is straight, but it appears wavy or crooked? Do colors look distorted? When you look straight ahead, do you see everything in front of you, or does the middle look blurry or dark?

Say yes to any of these changes in your vision and you may be developing macular degeneration. Like most eye diseases, there are no symptoms as the disease begins, but as it progresses, you’ll see major changes in your vision; that is until you can’t see much at all.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of severe vision loss in adults over 50. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1.8 million people have AMD, and another 7.3 million are at substantial risk. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 14 percent of white Americans over age 80 will have AMD.

“Caucasians are at higher risk for developing AMD than other races,” American Optometric Association says. “Women also develop AMD at an earlier age than men.”

The macula is a small portion of the retina that is located on the inside back layer of the eye. When there are changes to it, loss of central vision can occur. There are two forms of AMD, the “dry” (atrophic) and “wet” (exudative).

Dry AMD is the most common, affecting about 80 percent of people who have AMD. “Dry AMD is when parts of the macula get thinner with age and tiny clumps of a protein called drusen (yellow deposits under the retina) grow. You slowly lose central vision. There is no way to treat dry AMD yet,” explains the American Academy of Ophthalmology. However, diet may make a big difference in its progression.

Wet AMD is less common but more serious. “Wet AMD is when new, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina. These vessels may leak blood or other fluids, causing scarring of the macula. You lose vision faster with wet AMD than with dry AMD,” AAO says. And, they tell us that if found early enough, wet AMD can be treated with intraocular injections.

Regular eye exams are crucial for finding eye diseases in their earliest stages when something can be done to reduce progression. So, while we’re talking about eye exams, I’ll take the opportunity to tell you that Bonner General Health’s new ophthalmology clinic is open and taking appointments by calling 208-265-1011.

An article published last month on All About Vision’s website tells us that a poor diet is linked to late-stage AMD. “An unhealthy diet that’s heavy on meat, fried foods, and high-fat dairy isn’t only bad for your waistline and heart,” it says. “It’s also bad for your eyes. People eating this typical Western diet are three times more likely to develop late-stage age-related macular degeneration.”

This study, conducted by the University of Buffalo, used data on 66 different foods that participants self-reported consuming over a period of eight years.

“What we observed in this study was that people who had no AMD or early AMD at the start of our study and reported frequently consuming unhealthy foods were more likely to develop vision-threatening, late-stage disease approximately 18 years later,” said study senior author Amy Millen, Ph.D. at UB.

Besides your eating habits, you’re likely to develop AMD if you’re over 50 years old, are overweight, smoke cigarettes, have hypertension (high blood pressure) and/or have a family history of AMD. “Having heart disease is another risk factor for AMD, as is having high cholesterol levels,” AAO says.

Because it can’t be cured, it doesn’t mean the progression of AMD can’t be slowed. AAO says that some people may benefit from a specific mix of vitamins and minerals.

“AREDS2 (Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2) was a very large research study,” AAO reported. “This study found that certain nutritional supplements could help some people who have a lot of drusen. These supplements may also help people who have lost a lot of vision in at least one eye from AMD.”

These supplements included vitamin C, vitamin E, Lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and copper. All of these are available over-the-counter, but please talk to your primary care provider or eye doctor before starting on a vitamin regimen.


Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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