Some years ago, four to be exact, I wrote an article titled The “Eyes” Have It. I discussed the differences between how cataracts were surgically treated back in the 1960s as opposed to the miracles of modern medicine today. I explained that I started wearing glasses in the second grade because a teacher noticed that I was better behaved when I sat in the front of the classroom and got in trouble for talking to the kid next to me when I was in the back. Who knew I couldn’t see the front of the room clearly and became distracted? For many years I wore glasses. I started wearing contact lenses in 1980, but the big change came in 2014 when I had cataract surgery. That gave me the best vision of my entire life.
Here we are in 2018 and I went to my regular checkup with my eye doctor thinking everything was fine. My vision was sharp and everything was in focus. As usual, everything wasn’t fine. Dr. Richard Ehlen, my optometrist, told me he needed to refer me to Dr. Allan Hunter a specialist in medical & surgical diseases of the retina and vitreous because it looks like I have the beginnings of Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Since I have been a member of the Eugene Downtown Lions Club for about 25 years I have learned a lot about problems with vision and hearing. I certainly heard about the problem, but in typical style, I looked at it as a problem for older folks. The problem is that I didn’t look at myself as being in that category. I mean 72 isn’t that old is it?
What is Macular Degeneration? According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation website: “Macular Degeneration is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, the inside back layer of the eye that records the images we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain. The retina’s central portion, known as the macula, is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye, and it controls our ability read, drive car, recognize faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail.” Macular Degeneration is considered to be an incurable eye disease.
There are two types of Macular Degeneration Dry (atrophic) and and wet (exudative). Fortunately, like 85% to 90% of those with MacuIar Degeneration, have Age Related Dry Macular Degeneration because the Wet type refers to bleeding and that type comprises 10% to 15%. In the early stages, like in my case, most people with AMD have no symptoms at all. The only way to find out is at your regular yearly vision check with an optometrist to see the small Drusen. There are two other stages which are Intermediate AMD, where there can be some vision loss but no real symptoms, and Late AMD in which there is noticeable vision loss.
One of the main risk factors for developing Macular Degeneration is simply age and it is most likely to occur from 55-years-of-age and older. There is also a genetic component to this disease, so if your family members have developed it there is a much greater chance that you will also. There is a higher probability of developing AMD if you are caucasian. And lastly smoking doubles the risk for AMD. There may not be a cure yet, but Dr. Hunter explained there are things that you can do to slow down the progression of the disease especially if you have an early diagnosis.
Here are some of the things you can do to promote eye health in general and more specifically to possibly slow the progression of the disease. Just as with most diseases one of the best things for you to do is get plenty of exercise. Also you should avoid smoking and whenever outside wear sunglasses with optimal ultraviolet light protection. One of the simplest treatments for AMD is a proper diet which must include consuming plenty of leafy green vegetables. As my parents used to tell me when I was a child “Eat your carrots like Bugs Bunny and you’ll have better eyesight.” I ate a lot of carrots and still ended up wearing glasses for the better part of my life. Seriously, the beta-carotene in carrots is excellent for good eye health. There are also some nutritional supplements that may be beneficial and they include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, Copper, Lutein, and Zeaxanthin. You’ll want to check with your doctor to determine if this is what you need and what dosages would be best in your case.
Dr. Hunter also gave me a grid vision test to perform at home. I am to report any changes in my vision that I notice when covering one eye and looking at the spot in the middle. The two grids shown depict the chart itself and also the kind of visual distortion that AMD can cause when looking through one eye at the center of the chart.
It is also helpful to do some research on your own. Performing a web search on the topic will give you a better understanding of the disease and which steps you will want to take for better eye health. You might start with:
Even if you have not been diagnosed with Macular Degeneration it would still be a good idea to check out the ways you can keep your body, and particularly your eyes, as healthy as possible as you age.
Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].