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Macular Degeneration: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments

4 min read

By Heather Fishel

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Gerald Morris

Worsening vision is a common side effect of aging. But if your vision is changing often or you’re beginning to experience vision loss, you might have a more serious health issue. You might be experiencing signs or symptoms of macular degeneration. As the most common cause of vision loss in adults 50 and older, macular degeneration is a condition everyone should be aware of.

Macular degeneration happens over time. As such, its symptoms can appear slowly. You might not experience immediate vision loss, but rather subtle changes to your eyesight. If left to progress, macular degeneration could lead to total blindness. The signs, symptoms, and treatments of macular degeneration are…

How Macular Degeneration Begins

Macular degeneration is a condition that’s most common in older adults. This ailment causes severe vision loss in adults 60 and older. Moreover, anyone is at risk for developing it.

The exact cause of macular degeneration is unknown. However, doctors do know that there are certain risk factors that can make it more likely to develop. Common risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • A diet high in saturated fat
  • Having light skin
  • Being female
  • Having light-colored eyes

Additionally, having a family history of macular degeneration can increase your individual risk.

When macular degeneration begins, it can start slowly and in different ways. There are two types of macular degeneration, the dry form, and the wet form. Despite there being two types, most people develop the dry form. In fact, only 10 percent of all macular degeneration cases are the wet form.

The symptoms you experience can help your doctor determine which type of macular degeneration you have. However, symptoms may be difficult to notice at first.

Diabetic Macular Edema

It’s also important to be aware of diabetic macular edema, which is a complication of diabetes. Individuals with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can develop it.

Diabetic macular edema occurs when “excess fluid starts to build up in the macula of the eye,” says Healthline. The macula has an important job of helping us focus to see fine details and is located in the center of the retina. When fluid builds up, it can cause vision problems or blindness.

Signs and Symptoms of Macular Degeneration

Initially, macular degeneration may not show any obvious symptoms. You may simply think your vision is changing or that you need adjustments.

This is because macular degeneration, particularly in its most common form, often brings on symptoms gradually. Symptoms can be pain-free, but they can cause discomfort or uncertainty in your vision. They can include:

  • Distorted vision, such as bent lines or wavy objects
  • Limited central vision
  • Difficulty seeing in low or dim lighting
  • Blurry vision, particularly with printed words
  • Decreased ability to see bright or intense colors
  • Difficulty recognizing faces

Wet macular degeneration, the less common form, can begin with the symptoms of dry macular degeneration. The condition can then change as it develops. So, these symptoms can be an indicator of either wet or dry macular degeneration.

While these symptoms might initially appear in only one eye, they will progress to both. However, if left to progress, your vision can grow significantly worse over time.

If you think you might be experiencing symptoms such as these, it’s important to speak with your doctor. Your doctor can perform the necessary screenings and tests to determine what’s happening to your vision.

Treating Macular Degeneration

There is no treatment available for macular degeneration. Unfortunately, once you’re diagnosed with this condition, the only solution is to try to slow its progression. Doing this may help preserve your vision and prevent more severe vision loss.

Your doctor will recommend specific treatments and a treatment plan based on your unique diagnosis. Since every case of macular degeneration is different, the severity will vary. As such, the steps your doctor takes may change as the condition progresses.

There are two common treatment options used to help those with macular degeneration: low vision rehabilitation and surgery. Low vision rehabilitation involves working with occupational therapists, rehab specialists, eye doctors, and other medical professions to adapt to your new vision. Surgery is typically used to implant a telescopic lens into one eye, which can help with both far-away and up-close vision.

Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies

Along with these treatment options, your doctor may recommend a combination of lifestyle changes or home remedies to help slow vision loss, including:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and foods high in zinc
  • An increase in omega-3 fatty acids, either via diet or supplements
  • Carefully managing other health concerns, such as cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure
  • Checking vision with regular eye exams

Treating macular degeneration is a lifelong process. Because there is no cure, this condition can only be slowed in its progression. But that doesn’t mean you should simply ignore any changes that happen with your vision. It’s important to see a doctor if you think you might be experiencing signs of macular degeneration.

Regular Checkups

Additionally, make sure to see your eye doctor regularly. Checkups and routine exams can pinpoint problems and conditions before they begin affecting your daily life.

You can also discuss your concerns about conditions like macular degeneration with your doctor, which may help you better understand your risk factors.

MD, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine

Gerald Morris, MD is a family medicine/internal medicine physician with over 20 years expertise in the medical arena. Dr. Morris has spent time as a clinician, clinical research coordinator/manager, medical writer, and instructor. He is a proponent of patient education as a tool in the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic medical conditions.

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