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Macular Degeneration Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

If your eyesight feels blurry when you look straight ahead, you may have macular degeneration.

Age-related macular degeneration is a common cause of vision loss for people over 50.

This eye disease causes central vision loss, which makes it hard to see faces, read, or do close-up work.

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For more information, or to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist, please contact the UPMC Vision Institute at 412-647-2200 or 1-800-446-3797.

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What Is Macular Degeneration?

Doctors define macular degeneration as an eye disease that affects the center part of the retina (the macula). Degenerative means the disease slowly gets worse over time.

It's a common disease that can affect one or both eyes. In the U.S., nearly 20 million people have macular degeneration.

With macular degeneration, your central vision — what you see when you look straight ahead — becomes blurred. It doesn't affect your peripheral vision — what you see at the edges of your vision.

Macular degeneration doesn't cause complete blindness. But it makes it hard to read, drive, and do any work that involves close-up vision.

Symptoms tend to get worse as time goes by.

What Are the Types of Macular Degeneration?

There are two types of age-related macular degeneration: dry and wet.

Dry macular degeneration

This is the most common type — 80% of people with macular degeneration have the dry form.

Dry macular degeneration happens slowly, often over years.

Parts of the macula become thinner as you age. Small protein deposits, which doctors call drusen, may also form in the eye and distort your vision.

Dry macular degeneration happens in stages: early, intermediate, and late.

It can turn into wet macular degeneration at any stage.

Wet macular degeneration

Wet macular degeneration is a more serious form of the disease.

It happens when new, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina. These blood vessels leak blood and fluid into the retina.

The fluid from the blood vessels can distort your vision. The leaking blood vessels can also cause macula scarring, leading to permanent vision loss.

Wet macular degeneration gets worse faster than the dry type.

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What Causes Macular Degeneration?

Doctors don't always know what causes macular degeneration.

It runs in some families, but people with no family history of the disease can get it, too. It happens mostly in older people.

What Are Risk Factors and Complications of Macular Degeneration?

Although doctors don't know the exact cause of macular degeneration, you're more likely to get it if you:

  • Are over 50.
  • Have a family history of macular degeneration.
  • Smoke.
  • Are white.
  • Are overweight.
  • Have high blood pressure.
  • Don't exercise.
  • Eat a diet rich in saturated fat, i.e., meat, butter, and cheese.

The complications of macular degeneration may include:

  • Vision loss.
  • Depression.
  • Retinal detachment.
  • Falls and fractures.

How long does it take for macular degeneration to progress?

Dry macular degeneration can take years to turn into serious vision loss.

The wet form of the disease worsens quickly, often in days or weeks.

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Macular Degeneration Symptoms and Diagnosis

What are the warning signs and symptoms of macular degeneration?

There are no symptoms in the early stages of the disease.

As macular degeneration progresses, you may notice symptoms such as:

  • A blurry area in your central vision that gets bigger over time.
  • Blank spots in your central vision.
  • Trouble seeing in dim lighting.
  • Straight lines looking wavy or crooked.
  • Colors that don't seem as bright as they used to.

How do you diagnose macular degeneration?

Your doctor may use one or more of the following exams to diagnose macular degeneration.

dilated eye exam. First, eye drops widen your pupil. Then your doctor can look at your eye with a special lens to check for macular degeneration.

Optical coherence tomography (OCT). A special machine scans the retina to provide detailed images of the macula.

Fluorescein angiography. A doctor injects a special dye into a vein, and a camera takes photos of the retina. It shows if any abnormal new blood vessels are forming under the retina.

You can also monitor changes in your vision at home using an Amsler grid.

This chart is a simple pattern of straight lines like a checkerboard. If the lines look wavy or incomplete, it may indicate macular degeneration.

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How Do You Treat Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration treatment depends on the stage and type of the disease.

In the early stages, there's no treatment. But your doctor will want you to have routine eye exams to keep track of any changes in your vision.

There's no cure for macular degeneration. But, you may be able to slow down the progress of the disease.

The eye doctors at the UPMC Vision Institute can help you keep as much vision as possible.

Depending on the type and stage of your disease, they may suggest:

Lifestyle changes to help macular degeneration

Certain lifestyle changes may help slow vision loss.

You should:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Get routine exercise.
  • Keep blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Medical procedures for dry macular degeneration

After years of research, recently drugs have been approved for advanced dry AMD, which are available at the UPMC Vision Institute. Our experts Ucan discuss with you after detailed evaluation.

If you have wet macular degeneration, your doctor may suggest:

Anti-VEGF drugs. Doctors use a tiny need to give you this treatment. It helps reduce the number of abnormal blood vessels in your retina. It also slows leaking.

Laser surgery. This can help reduce the number of abnormal blood vessels and slow their leaking.

Nutrition supplements

A diet high in certain nutrients may help support macular health. Taking a mix of supplements called AREDS may reduce the risk of getting macular degeneration.

These supplements contain:

  • Lutein.
  • Zeaxanthin.
  • Vitamin C.
  • Vitamin E.
  • Beta-carotene.
  • Zinc.

Vision rehabilitation

You can make the most of your vision with:

  • Low vision aids. Handheld computers, large-print items, magnifying tools, and other electronic items.
  • Vision rehab. A vision rehab specialist can help you learn how to use your side vision.

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Contact the UPMC Vision Institute

If you have questions about macular degeneration or want to see a UPMC eye doctor, call 412-647-2200 or 1-800-446-3797.

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