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What Are the Early Warning Signs of Macular Degeneration?

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Doctor explaining age-related macular degeneration (AMD) using a plastic eye model.

Macular degeneration is a common eye condition that primarily affects older adults, leading to vision loss in the center of the visual field. This condition can significantly impact daily activities like reading, driving, and recognizing faces.

Early detection of macular degeneration can make a significant difference in managing the condition effectively and maintaining quality of life. However, early macular degeneration may have little to no warning signs, making it difficult to detect without an eye exam. If you do notice early warning signs, they may include:

  • Blurred or distorted vision
  • Difficulty seeing in low light
  • Changes in colour perception

What Is Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is a chronic condition that affects the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision. When it’s caused by aging, it’s referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and is the leading cause of blindness in North America for adults over 50. 

This condition results in a gradual or sudden decline in central visual acuity. There are 2 primary forms of macular degeneration: dry and wet.

The dry form, which is more prevalent, involves the thinning and aging of the macula, leading to gradual vision loss. On the other hand, the wet form, though less common, causes rapid vision loss. It’s characterized by the abnormal growth of blood vessels under the retina, which can leak fluid or blood.

While peripheral vision typically remains intact, macular degeneration can significantly affect daily activities, such as recognizing faces, reading, and driving.

Understanding the Macula

The macula is a small area in the center of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision—what we use for tasks that require detailed sight, such as reading and driving. When the macula deteriorates, it leads to macular degeneration, causing the vision at the center of the field to blur or become distorted while peripheral vision remains mostly unaffected.

AMD Early Warning Signs

Recognizing the early warning signs of macular degeneration can be difficult. Dry AMD may have no symptoms at first, so you’ll only notice it as it progresses. Still, prompt medical intervention can potentially slow the disease’s progression. Here are some signs to watch for:

Blurred or Distorted Vision

One of the most common early signs of macular degeneration is blurred or distorted vision, especially in the centre of your vision. You might notice straight lines appear wavy or objects look smaller or farther away than they are.

Glasses can’t correct this blurriness, as the problem lies at the back of your eye.

Difficulty Seeing in Low Light

If you find it increasingly difficult to see in low light conditions, such as during dusk or in dimly lit rooms, this could be an early indicator of macular degeneration. This difficulty may extend to tasks like reading or recognizing faces in environments with poor lighting.

Changes in Colour Perception

The macula is important for recognizing colours, so changes in colour perception could signal the onset of macular degeneration. Much like anything to do with AMD, this change can be hard to pick out on your own. Colours may appear less vibrant, or you might have trouble distinguishing between similar shades.

Image depicting the various stages of macular degeneration.

Who Is at Risk for Macular Degeneration?

Several factors can increase the likelihood of developing macular degeneration. Understanding these risks can help you take preventive measures.

Age is the most significant risk factor for macular degeneration. The condition is most common in individuals over 50. Additionally, having a family history of macular degeneration increases your risk, suggesting a genetic component to the disease.

Other factors that can increase your risk of AMD include:

  • Smoking
  • A diet high in saturated fat
  • Lack of exercise
  • Excessive sun exposure
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

Diagnosis & Treatment Options

Since symptoms can be difficult to notice, regular eye exams are essential to detect macular degeneration before significant vision loss occurs.

Diagnosing macular degeneration involves a comprehensive eye exam, including a visual acuity test and a dilated exam. Imaging tests, such as optical coherence tomography (OCT) and fluorescein angiography, can provide detailed images of the retina, helping to identify abnormalities.

Adults over 50 should schedule comprehensive eye exams every year, or more frequently if recommended by their eye care professional.

While there is currently no cure for macular degeneration, several treatments can help manage the condition. For dry macular degeneration, nutritional supplements with the AREDS2 formula containing vitamins C and E, zinc, copper, and beta-carotene may slow its progression.

Wet macular degeneration must be treated quickly. This can include anti-VEGF injections, which inhibit the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina.

Tips for Preventing AMD

Taking certain preventive measures can help reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration. These include:

  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle by eating well and exercising to maintain a healthy weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating an antioxidant-rich diet with green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish
  • Wearing sunglasses to shield your eyes from harmful UV rays

Focus on Your Health & Watch for Subtle Signs

They can be hard to notice, but being aware of the early warning signs of macular degeneration is vital for maintaining healthy sight. This proactive approach to eye care can make all the difference.

Fortunately, you’re not in this alone. If you notice any changes in your vision, don’t wait—schedule an eye exam with our friendly Simcoe Optometric Clinic team and let us do the rest. We’re proud to help you safeguard your eye health with health-centered, technology-assisted eye exams, and offer comprehensive eye care solutions.

There is still so much to see, so book your appointment—your eyes will thank you.

Written by Dr. Amber McKnight

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