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Macular degeneration: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About macular degeneration

Macular degeneration is a disorder of the eyes, which is most commonly observed in elderly and hence is called ‘age-related macular degeneration’ (AMD). It is characterized by gradual, painless, central vision loss in both eyes. The central part of the visual field is lost and the person can see the peripheral field of vision. This is a progressive disease and no definitive treatment has yet come up.

Macular degeneration: Incidence, age and sex

Macular degeneration is an infrequently occurring eye disorder seen in the younger population. It is more commonly seen in elderly above 65 years.

Signs and symptoms of macular degeneration: Diagnosis

The primary clinical features of macular degeneration include partial loss of vision in both eyes. The patient may complain of increased requirement of light and higher contrast in order to see properly. He may be unable to differentiate different objects of the same colour. The affected individual, in an advanced stage of disease fails to recognize faces and read the largest letter in the eye chart. However, peripheral vision remains intact and helps the affected individuals to walk easily.

The diagnosis is established by detailed examination of the eyes by an eye specialist. Eye examination by a special instrument called the ophthalmoscope, reveals yellow deposition called drusen on the retina. Other eye test called Perimetry may also be done to check the field of vision.

Causes and prevention of macular degeneration

The cause of macular degeneration is not clearly understood. Both genetic and environmental factors seem to play a role in the causation of this disorder.

Dietary changes including increased consumption of green leafy vegetables, supplements of zinc and food rich in antioxidants may help in preventing the occurrence of macular degeneration or minimising its progress, once diagnosed. Smoking cessation, protection against UV light and regular physical exercise may also contribute to its prevention.

Macular degeneration: Complications

Macular degeneration is emotionally distressing for elderly individuals. Macular degeneration in advanced stages may lead to profound visual loss, leading to impairment in daily activities.

Macular degeneration: Treatment

Age-related macular degeneration is a progressive disorder and it has no definitive treatment. It seems to be an incurable eye disorder. However, extensive research is being done regarding genetic replacement therapy and stem cell transplantation, which may help in treating this disorder. In fact, laser therapy may be considered to impede leakage of blood from the small blood vessels of the eyes. Alternatively, a surgical approach may also be done to translocate the macula to a healthier part of the retina.

Rehabilitation centres for such patients are available where individuals are being trained in the use of low-vision devices and computer software. It is also important to educate the patients regarding the disorder, their subsequent therapies and support centres, in order to help them to cope better and lead an enhanced quality of life.