Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration Symptoms and Treatment

The macula is the area of our retina responsible for central vision – it has a much higher concentration of receptors than the peripheral retina. Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a condition in which the macula is damaged, causing a distortion or even loss of central vision. It is the most common cause of severe vision loss among people over 65.

There are two types:

  1. The dry form (Non-exudative)
  2. The wet form (Exudative)

Dry AMD is by far the most common, and occurs when the receptors in the macula begin to slowly break down. Yellowish deposits called “drusen” can be seen in the area. Vision loss can be significant, but usually much less so than with wet AMD, unless significant scarring occurs.

In the wet form, abnormal and fragile vessels grow under the macula. The vessels leak blood and fluid, causing rapid and severe damage to the macula. Vision loss is usually devastating.

Additionally, there are three stages to AMD:

  1. Early
  2. Intermediate
  3. Advanced

Any form of wet AMD is considered “Advanced,” and the dry form can progress to the wet form.

There is exciting news about a clinical study linking the use of antioxidant vitamins and zinc with a decreased risk of progression to advanced AMD.

In October 2001 the National Eye Institute (NEI) published a study (AREDS) showing that high levels of antioxidants and zinc reduce the risk of advanced AMD and its associated vision loss by 25-28%.*   The nutrients evaluated by the researchers contained:

  • Vitamin A (beta-carotene) 15 mg
  • Vitamin C 500 mg
  • Vitamin E 400 IU
  • Zinc oxide 80 mg
  • Copper**
* (A followup study – AREDS 2 in 2006 – showed decreased risk of around 12%)

** (Copper was added to prevent copper deficiency, which may be associated with high levels of zinc supplementation.)

The benefits of the nutrients were seen only in people who began the AREDS 2 study at high risk for developing advanced AMD – those with intermediate AMD in one or both eyes, and those with advanced AMD in one eye only. It should be noted that the high concentrations of the antioxidants used in the study cannot be obtained from a normal diet, or even most daily multivitamins – but they are available in ocular formulations like EyeCaps, Preservision, or OcuVite. Be sure to review all of your vitamin supplements with your primary doctor – for example, smokers should avoid beta-carotene supplements, as they increase the risk for lung cancer.  Most doctors recommend the AREDS 2 formulation.

Lutein (a carotenoid) has also been linked to a reduced risk for AMD, and new studies are underway. However, most eye care practitioners are recommending a combination supplement program of the antioxidants (Vitamins A, C, and E), zinc, and lutein.

Macular degeneration can occur during middle age. The risk increases with aging. Other risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Race (more prevalent in whites)
  • Family history of AMD
  • Gender (more common in women)
  • Ultraviolet radiation exposure

If you have a family history of macular degeneration, or have been diagnosed with moderate AMD in one or both eyes (or advanced AMD in one eye), do yourself a favor – get your eyes checked annually, and be sure to ask your doctor if use of these supplements is right for you. And remember to wear your sunglasses!