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Don’t lose sight of age related macular degeneration

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Macular degeneration is a common eye disease that causes deterioration of the macula which is the central area of the retina (the paper-thin tissue at the back of the eye where light sensitive cells send visual signals to the brain).

The macula is a small central portion of the retina which is necessary for sharp “straight ahead” vision that is needed for reading, driving a car or recognizing faces. {{more}}

Macular degeneration affects the layer under the macula known as the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). This layer has many important functions such as oxygen transport, transfer of nutrients to the retina, without which the retina would not function well.

This disease is a localized one of the macula that causes decrease in visual sharpness (central vision) with its incidence increasing annually parallel to the longevity of persons. It is generally bilateral but asymmetric; after affecting one eye, between 1 to 5 years later, in 12% of cases, the opposite eye is then affected too.

What are the most common complaints in these patients? Loss of visual sharpness (central vision), image deformation and the presence of black spots in the central zone of the visual field are some of the most common ones.

The patient is most likely to be 65 years and older, smoker/ex-smoker, hypertensive, has arteriosclerosis, obese and/or sedentary, has bad eating habits (little or no vegetables, fruits or whole grains) and with a family history of ARMD.

There are various stages of the disease starting with an early stage passing on to intermediate and then the advanced stage, and there are two types: nonexudative (dry) or atrophic (more frequent) and the exudative (wet), neovascular which produces most loss of vision.

How is the diagnosis made? The patient refers to having blurred vision with a blind spot in the visual field, a test by the ophthalmologist called Amsler is positive and the pupils are dilated so that he/she can see the back of eyes.

ARMD can be treated with vitamins, laser surgery to destroy the new blood vessels before they cause any more damage, photodynamic therapy (PDT), but the most important fact to keep in mind is that once the disease has been initiated it has a very bad prognosis and the patient must prepare themselves to have very poor vision for life. This is why prevention is of utmost importance by eating a healthy diet rich in vegetables and fresh fruit, drinking vitamin supplements (especially vitamins A, C and E) and eliminating the habit of smoking. Remember my fellow readers, regular exercise and keeping our bodies healthy are always good preventive methods for all diseases.

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