Macular Degeneration Now The Leading Cause of Blindness in North America
Although we are all familiar with cataracts and glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness for those aged 55 or older is a disease known as AMD (Age Related Macular Degeneration) About one-third of all Canadians aged 55 to 74 and 40 per cent of those 75 and older have some form of AMD. Because this disease develops very slowly and is painless, most people do not realize they have this condition until it is detected in an eye exam or if the condition reaches an advanced stage. At the present time two million Canadians are losing their vision due to AMD and this disease is set to explode as the population ages.
Macular degeneration is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, the inside back layer of the eye that records the images that we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain. The retina’s central portion, known as the macula, is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye, and it controls our ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colours, and see objects in fine detail.
There are two types of AMD, the Wet form, which is very rare, and the Dry form, which is responsible for 85 to 90 per cent of the cases. The dry form of macular degeneration starts with a failure of the deepest layer of pigmented cells in the retina to clean up byproducts produced by nearby cell layers. This garbage in your eye that is not cleaned up shows up as little yellow deposits (called drusen) during an eye examination.
The first symptoms are a feeling that there is not enough light and not being able to read the fine print. These symptoms can be confused with cataracts, which are slowly growing webs that cover your eye reducing the amount of light that gets into your eye and presbyopia, which is a condition in which you lose the elasticity of the muscles behind your eyes and cannot focus on near objects without your reading glasses. Every person develops presbyopia as they age; some sooner than others. Symptoms may also
include an inability to differentiate between navy blue and black as the progression of the disease causes the cells in the macula to lose their pigment.
The more serious and aggressive form of macular degeneration, called the wet form, actually causes the cell layer to crack and blood vessels underneath begin growing through the cell layers just like weeds coming up between your patio stones. Now instead of a tight layer of cells holding the fluid back, you have a puddle and the patient gets a dark spot in the center of the eye causing serious distortion. Straight lines look wavy and colours all look washed out or faded. The spot gets bigger and bigger and you feel that you are looking through a doughnut. There is no medical treatment for dry AMD but there are some drugs that have limited success with the wet form.
There are many theories about the cause of AMD, but so far we only speculate on the cause. If you have a family history of AMD, a fair complexion and light-coloured eyes you are more prone to this condition. If you are a smoker you have up to six times the risk of developing AMD than that of a non-smoker. If you were brought up in an environment in which you rarely ate fresh fruits or vegetables you are also more likely to get AMD.
Macular degeneration is a slow degenerative disease and there is no cure. However, eating abundant servings of fruits and vegetables, especially leafy green and yellow-o-orange ones seems to slow down the progression. Taking supplements rich in Lutein and Zeaxanthin along with powerful antioxidants also slows down the progression. Even the medical profession agrees that in this case, mega doses of vitamins and supplements actually are helpful. The pharmaceutical companies promote an eye preparation called Vitaluxâ, which is practically useless. It contains a small amount of Beta-carotene, Vitamin C and Vitamin E and copper, selenium and zinc. The best product that I have seen for this condition is called Vision Essentials; a formula produced by Dr.Julian Whitaker and it seems to be the most successful at halting the progression of the disease. It contains high doses of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Zinc, Copper, amino acids, alpha- lipoic acids and high doses of Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Bilberry and many more herbs specifically for eye health. However, even if you do take this product, you should still eats lots of fruits and vegetables, especially those with coloured pigments. Prevention should also be seriously considered because in some cases, dry AMD can spontaneously develop in to wet AMD resulting in rapid and severe vision loss.
If you are over 55 years of age and fall into any of the risk categories, you should have a complete eye examination every year. Your eyesight is so important. Can you imagine spending the last years of your life in blindness, not being able to see the faces of your loved ones? Even if you are diagnosed with the disease, at least with early treatment you can stop the progression and keep the eyesight that you have.