What Is Macular Degeneration?
Macular Degeneration is the number one cause of vision loss in the senior population. It affects mostly caucasian women, but can affect others as well. What causes the condition to develop, who is at risk, and how is treated?
Macular Degeneration: Everything You Need to Know
Macular Degeneration is an eye disease which causes a partial or complete loss of your central vision. A person’s central vision is what allows them to see things that are directly in front of them, such as faces, books, or screens. The macula is located in the central portion of the retina, in the back of the eye, and contains cone photoreceptors. These densely packed photoreceptors give us sharp, detail vision. The rest of the retina contains some cones, but mostly rod photoreceptors and allow us peripheral vision for mobility.
When the macula is damaged, your ability to enjoy clear vision is negatively affected. Everyday types of activities like reading or driving can become difficult.
There are two types of AMD: wet and dry. The cone cells simply die off in dry macular degeneration and there is no treatment. They cannot be replaced, transplanted or regrown.
Wet AMD involves leaking fluid from the blood vessels behind the macula. Treatment is directed to stopping those leaks with injections such as avastin, leucentis or eyelea. Treatment does not restore the lost vision, unfortunately.
Although this condition is irreversible, there is hope. A wide range of optometric low vision glasses and devices can help AMD patients regain their independence and continue to enjoy a high quality of life.
How IALVS Low Vision Doctors Can Help
The earlier the condition is found, the sooner treatment can begin. That’s why an early diagnosis is so vital for you or your loved ones.
There are some things you can do on your own to decrease your risk of developing Macular Degeneration. Quitting smoking, eating healthy meals with green vegetables and “eye healthy” foods (ie. orange peppers, kale, and spinach), exercise, and wearing UV-blocking sunglasses are a few examples.
If you have Wet Macular Degeneration, medicated injections or laser therapy may slow down the progression of vision loss. However, these options won’t reverse your vision loss; they merely stop it from getting worse.
There are also a number of Low Vision glasses and devices that can help improve your vision so that you can enjoy reading, driving, watching TV, running errands, and recognizing the faces of your friends or family. Low Vision glasses and devices have proven to be extremely helpful for patients with Macular Degeneration.
Q&A - A Detailed Look at Macular Degeneration
How Can I Drive With Macular Degeneration?
Central vision is very important for driving. Unfortunately, since macular degeneration causes central vision loss, driving becomes difficult or impossible with a central blind spot. Nonetheless, there are low vision glasses that can help enhance your vision. This involves mounting a miniature binocular called a bioptic telescope, on your eyeglasses. This will help you drive as you will be able to recognize the color of traffic lights and see street signs. Although, it is important to undergo a specialized training program before you are allowed to drive in.
How Can I Read With Macular Degeneration?
Macular Degeneration causes a central blind spot which makes it tough to read small print. What’s more, your eyes will continue to struggle as you focus on new words. Hence, reading will be very slow. To enhance your reading abilities, our low vision doctors, will recommend the right low vision glasses for you. This can include low vision magnifying reading glasses or prismatic eyeglasses. These low vision glasses will provide high-powered magnification that will lessen the effect of the central blind spot.
How to Watch TV With Macular Degeneration?
Furthermore, macular degeneration patients may find it hard to watch TV. The options they have are sitting closer to the TV to enlarge and spread the image across a peripheral retina. Purchasing a TV that has a very large screen and sharper quality for clearer images. The use of a telescopic system or other low vision aids to provide magnification when viewing the television. They also feature special tints and coatings to help reduce glare, improve light transmission, and improve contrast.
How Can I See My Phone Better If I Have Macular Degeneration?
Like other activities which require light, patients with macular degeneration may find it difficult to operate their phone. You may have to move your mobile devices very close to your eyes. You can also magnify your fonts to operate the phone. When you visit our low vision center, we will recommend low vision glasses that will help enhance your vision while improving light transmission and reducing glare.
How Can I Better Make Out Faces If I Have Macular Degeneration?
Another serious challenge you can face as an AMD patient is making out faces. Due to the central blind spot, every image, object, or face directly in front of you will appear blurry. Although you will be able to recognize those you are familiar with using their voice, shape or walking posture, you will need special low vision glasses to make out new faces.
What Advanced Technology Is Available For Macular Degeneration?
Advances in technology have made it possible for patients with low vision conditions such as macular degeneration to live and work just like individuals with normal vision. This has led to the development of telescopic implants known as Implantable Miniature Telescope (IMT). These IMTs will help to enhance visual acuity by reducing the effect of the central “blind spot” caused by macular degeneration. In the future the condition may be managed by using advanced stem-cell treatment procedures.
How Do I Cope With Or Manage Macular Degeneration?
Patients with AMD often find it very difficult to adapt to the dark after long exposure to sunlight. Hence, it is advisable to put on dark glasses and hats anytime you go out during the day. Your lenses should also contain special tints and coatings. This will help reduce glare, improve light transmission, and improve contrast. Other tips include:
- When indoors, sit far from the window and shut the curtains.
- Put on sun filters to reduce glare and light sensitivity.
- Read print materials that have fonts of large sizes.
- Reduce direct sunlight exposure
- Avoid places with second-hand cigarette smoke.
Treatment for Macular Degeneration
Unfortunately, there is no cure and no procedure to replace the damaged macula. The goal of treatment is to stop the breakage and prevent the macula from deteriorating even more. IALVS Low Vision skilled and caring doctors use their years of experience and state of the art optics and technology to manage your condition so that you can continue doing the things you love.
There is evidence suggesting that a number of nutritional supplements which include omega 3 fatty acids, lutein, and zeaxanthin may help prevent the progression of AMD and may also reduce the chance of dry AMD changing to the wet form.
The medical community and scientific researchers continue to study Macular Degeneration and run clinical trials, so there is hope for the future. Let the IALVS team of experienced low vision eye doctors help you get back to doing the things you enjoy and continue to live independently.
Low Vision Glasses and Devices for Macular Degeneration
Low Vision glasses and devices can help you manage the condition by enhancing your remaining vision with the use of magnification, filters, and prisms. Telescope and microscope glasses enlarge objects so they can be seen. Prisms sometimes move light away from the macula and onto peripheral retina. Low vision devices, such as handheld, mounted, or stand-alone magnifiers help for reading prices and labels, and other tasks.
Deciding which ones are best depends on what tasks and activities are most important to you. Certain aids are helpful for reading a book or watching TV, while other devices help you with driving and recognizing faces. Your eye doctor will speak with you about your daily activities and help determine which low vision glasses and devices are right for you.
Handheld And Desktop Magnifiers
Magnifiers enlarge images and objects, allowing you to see them clearer and in more detail. Many patients find magnifiers an excellent aid for reading, writing, or using a computer. There are also hand-held and desktop video magnifiers. These low-vision magnifiers come in a variety of strengths, light, color contrast, and magnification capabilities. While some are handheld, others can be connected to the computer.
OrCam is another device that is changing how people with macular degeneration and other low vision issues can perceive the world. The OrCam features a camera, speaker and a cable connected to a larger device. This tiny device is attached to the patient’s eyeglasses. OrCam uses AI technology to help people with visual impairment read texts, recognize faces, identify products, and so forth. OrCam will give you the secret power over your macular degeneration issues.
Low Vision Glasses
Bioptic Telescopic glasses magnify and make distant objects more visible. Think of them like miniature binoculars that sit above your line of sight in your eyeglasses. Simply lowering your chin to view through the telescope gives you the magnification you need to see objects or images better.
IALVS low vision doctors often recommend Bioptic Telescopic glasses to help Macular Degeneration patients with their vision needs while driving. They are also excellent for going to the movies, sitting at a baseball game, or watching a play at the theater.
Full-Diameter telescopes are ideal for when you're doing something without too much movement. They are usually an excellent device for enjoying television, or seeing and recognizing faces of people in a room. That's because they cover the entire area of the lens, giving you a magnified view with greater detail. This is especially helpful because the inability to identify the people you care about can be quite painful. After all, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the faces of the people you love.
Special Binoculars Or Telescopes
Special prescription binoculars or telescopes that are mounted on the glasses are useful for various activities such as watching the grandchildren play sports, enjoying the theater, watching television, taking in a baseball or football game, recognizing faces, appreciating the scenery, exploring a museum, reading a McDonalds menu and lots more.
Personalized Optical Systems
Our low vision doctors can also recommend customized, prescription optical systems for macular degeneration patients. These optical systems feature microscopic, telescopic, prismatic, and filter lenses to maximize images and objects.
Prismatic Eyeglasses are excellent examples of low vision magnifying reading glasses. Prismatic eyeglasses are extra strong reading glasses. They provide space for a natural, comfortable focal point. Prismatic eyeglasses feature optical quality spherical lenses which magnify and converge the image concurrently. They are useful for reading aids.
Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Magnifiers
CCTV magnifier is a combination of a camera and TV screen used to provide low vision aid for macular degeneration patients. The camera is pointed at an object while a magnified image will appear on the screen. The patient will be able to see the magnified image that appears on the screen and use it to work in real time.
E-Scoop Glasses are specially designed lenses that offer a number of benefits. They offer 3 to 6 percent magnification, allowing clearer vision. The yellow tint improves contrast while the orange tint reduces glare. The built-in prisms will shift light away from the central area of the macula to the periphery, where there is often less damage.
IrisVision is a wearable device that comes with advanced virtual reality technology. With this, patients with macular degeneration can carry out their daily activities easily. IrisVision offer about 70-degree field of view. With this, patients can see the world clearly and fully. One disadvantage of iris vision is the inability to walk around while wearing the device. Above all, this low vision device features multiple view modes depending on the activity you intend to do. Whether you intend to watch television, read texts, or have a general view, you can switch between TV Mode, reading modes, or scene modes respectively. IrisVision provides a cost-effective and efficient way for you to live a quality life when you have macular degeneration.
The Two Types of Macular Degeneration
As stated above, there are two forms of the disease, known as wet and dry.
Dry Macular Degeneration is the more common of the two, affecting up to 90% of all patients with the condition. In these cases, the cells inside and around the macula become thin and eventually break down. When this happens, small proteins called drusen begin to form. Drusen are a common sign of Macular Degeneration and are often used to diagnose the disease.
Wet Macular Degeneration, the less common type, occurs when blood vessels under the retina leak fluid between the layers of the macula. This leakage causes blind spots and central vision loss. Of the two types, Wet Macular Degeneration is the more serious one because it can develop quickly and causes permanent scars in the eye.
Common Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of having Macular Degeneration is that the symptoms can be attributed to something else or go unnoticed. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of any slight changes to your vision.
The most common symptoms of Macular Degeneration are:
- Blind spots
- Cloudy vision
- Dark spots
- Distorted images
Patients with this condition may experience situations where they see pale colors when the actual colors of the image are brighter or sharper. Straight lines may appear wavy, they may see a gray or dark spot on an image, or the size of an object can seem smaller than its actual size.
Who is at Risk for Developing Macular Degeneration?
Seniors have a higher risk for developing the condition than other age groups, commonly referred to as Age-Related Macular Degeneration, or AMD for short. Although doctors don’t know exactly why, one possible reason is that the eyes simply change as part of the natural aging process. As the body changes, certain aspects of our health can change with it. The CDC estimates that 1.8 million Americans over the age of 40 have AMD and that this is likely to increase to 2.9 million by 2020. If you’re over 60 and have significant visual impairment, you may have AMD. This eye disease is the primary cause of Low Vision for seniors. If left untreated, the condition can deteriorate and cause blindness.
Gender is a factor in Age-Related Macular Degeneration cases. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, women make up 65% of AMD patients. Some suggest this is due to the fact that women generally live longer than men, while others believe that a lack of women’s health care in certain regions is to blame. Patients with a family history of the disease are far more likely to develop it, as well. Genetics often play a key role in various health issues, and eye health is certainly no exception.
Other risks for developing AMD include:
- Excessive exposure to UV rays
- Poor diet
- Lack of physical activity
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms or there is a history of the disease in your family, speak to an IALVS doctor to request a consultation. Our eye doctors can run a number of diagnostic tests and recommend a personal course of treatment or visual devices to help you.
Although AMD is common among seniors, young children and teenagers can develop a version of the disease called Juvenile Macular Degeneration, also known as Stargardt’s Disease. It is a genetic condition, inherited from one or both parents, and usually begins in childhood or early adolescence. Stargardt’s Disease causes central vision loss.
Juvenile Retinoschisis, a form of Juvenile Macular Degeneration, is more prevalent in boys and young men. It can be dangerous because it can lead to retinal detachment. If left untreated, that can lead to permanent vision loss. For children and teens, vision loss can be particularly traumatic because the inability to learn, play sports, or participate in extracurricular activities on par with their peers can seriously impact their lives.