Do you enjoy reading, driving your car, and gazing into your loved one’s eyes? If so, you can thank your macula, the inner part of your retina that is responsible for clear central vision. Unfortunately, your macula is susceptible to progressive damage called macular degeneration.
If this condition develops, your macula sends garbled images to your brain through your optic nerve. Most cases of the condition (up to 90%) are called dry macular degeneration, where protein deposits cause the macula to thin out.
Wet macular degeneration occurs when new blood vessels develop in your eyes, but because they’re often weak, they leak fluid into your eyes.
At Wolchok Eye Associates in Jacksonville, Florida, Dr. Stephen Wolchok, a diplomate of the American Board of Ophthalmology, diagnoses and treats both types of macular degeneration. However, he urges all of our patients to know their risk factors for this progressive disease so they can do everything possible to prevent it. Here’s how.
What macular degeneration feels like
Macular degeneration develops very slowly. At first, it works behind the scenes, deteriorating the macula. You probably won’t have any symptoms early on, but when they do appear, you notice:
- Blurry vision
- Distorted vision
- Diminished color vision
- Difficulty seeing in low light
- Loss of central vision
As the condition develops, you see a dark spot in the center of your vision that blocks out faces and words.
Macular degeneration risk factors and what you can do about them
Once you develop macular degeneration, it can’t be cured. We can treat dry macular degeneration with dietary supplements, but once it progresses past a certain point, these efforts don’t deliver significant improvements.
We can treat wet macular degeneration with anti-VEGF injection, laser surgery, and phototherapy.
But the strongest defense against macular degeneration is a good offense, which starts with knowing the risk factors that may make you more vulnerable to the condition. Age and genetics both play a role in the development of macular degeneration, and you obviously can’t control either. However, you can control the following factors.
Smokers are 2-4 times more likely to develop macular degeneration than nonsmokers. Your overall risk of macular degeneration depends on variables such as how long you were a smoker, whether you’re a current smoker, and the number of cigarettes you smoke daily.
Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to the development of macular degeneration, so it’s important to make sure you monitor your diet and take supplements when necessary to ensure you get enough vitamin E, vitamin C, copper, zinc, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
You can find vitamins C and E in colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. Copper and zinc are plentiful in nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants that protect the macula and help prevent degeneration. To get them, eat more spinach, zucchini, egg yolks, yellow and orange peppers, corn, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
Dr. Wolchok can let you know whether you need to take supplements to protect your eye health. Since there are some dangers inherent in some supplements, make sure to discuss them with us before buying them so we can help you select the optimal dose.
Hypertension is known to cause damage to the nerves and blood vessels in your eyes, a condition called retinopathy. High blood pressure is also associated with macular degeneration. So, monitor your blood pressure regularly, and take steps to lower it if it exceeds normal ranges.
The sun’s harmful rays can wreak havoc on your eyes, leading to the development of cataracts. Long-term exposure to ultraviolet light may also increase your risk for macular degeneration. Protect your vision by wearing sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection.
In addition to taking these precautionary steps, one of the best ways to detect the early signs of macular degeneration, slow its progression, and protect your eye health is to schedule and keep regular eye exams with Dr. Wolchok.
Call our friendly staff to schedule an appointment, or request one online today.