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Macular degeneration can be a slowly progressing condition that results in vision loss if you do not intervene. Unfortunately, by the time you may notice the disease, it may already be in the advanced stages so make sure you catch key symptoms early.

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in adults over the age of 50 so it is important that you familiarize yourself with some of the early signs of macular degeneration to begin treatment as soon as possible [1]. This is a disease that affects roughly 8 percent of the American population but an obvious step-wise increase in prevalence can be observed particularly in the white population as a person ages. After the age of 80, over 14 percent of Caucasian Americans can have age-related macular degeneration. [2] In this article, we will cover some of the signs of macular degeneration and inform you about what options you have when seeking macular degeneration treatment. 

Early Signs of Age-Related Macular Degeneration 

Much like hypertension, age-related macular degeneration is a condition that many people may suffer from and may be completely oblivious to their condition because it is 'clinically silent' when you first have the disease. Although macular degeneration will ultimately result in the loss of vision if it is left untreated, this process can take decades to occur so it is something that the general public can easily ignore at first. If you do not make efforts to stop this process from worsening, you will notice that you will have a blind-spot in the center of their vision. [3]

The key to this gradual loss of vision lies in the mechanism of what is going wrong. In a previous article, I pointed out the difference between wet and dry age-related macular degenerationThe biggest take-home point to remember is the fact that wet macular degeneration occurs at a much more accelerated pace compared to dry macular degeneration and patients have even less time to intervene. 

Symptoms to watch for in patients suffering from macular degeneration are grouped into 3 different categories based on the underlying damage associated with the macula: 

  • The earliest form of AMD
  • Intermediate Stage of AMD
  • Late-Stage AMD

The earliest form of the disease can be described as a silent presentation without obvious insults. The only thing noticeable on a routine examination is the presence of a compound called "drusen." This is essentially a ball of debris formed from high levels of lipids and proteins that accumulate in your eyes over time [4]. These drusen clusters will only be average-sized and will not interfere with your vision whatsoever. They will only be noticed if your optometrist performs a routine examination so that is why it is essential for you to visit them annually to have a routine check-up for your vision. [5]

The Later Stages of Age-Related Macular Degeneration 

If your optometrist missed some of the early signs of macular degeneration, which is entirely possible, the disease will worsen to the point of becoming the Intermediate Stage of AMD. This is a stage where the drusen clusters in your eyes become noticeably larger and can even be seen without the use of a microscope. Another obvious change is that the pigment compounds surrounding your retina will begin to show the signs of the disease. As blood is no longer able to pass to the tissue unopposed, the health of the surrounding tissue diminishes and patients begin to notice obvious changes to their ability to detect pigmentation. 

This stage can occur faster in individuals with certain risk factors. Two of the most dangerous factors include smoking and if the patient has AIDS. Studies show that individuals suffering from AIDS alone had nearly a 75 percent increase in the likelihood of developing macular degeneration. [6]

Should you fail to notice the symptoms in time, the Intermediate Stage of AMD will progress even further into the final stage: Late-Stage AMD. This is overt age-related macular degeneration and it is here where patients will begin to notice their loss of vision. Central vision will gradually deteriorate and patients will have a decrease in sharpness of vision. Reading will become more difficult for patients who are suffering at this stage of the disease and patients will seek macular degeneration treatment to prevent irreversible vision loss at this point. As studies indicate, the macula is responsible for about 10 percent of your total vision so losing this component of your vision will be substantial. Patients report lower quality of lives due to the fact that they are no longer able to read newspapers, drive a car, prepare meals independently or enjoy recreational activities which puts a significant damper on their retirement plans. [7]

All in all, macular degeneration is a crippling disease if you do not catch the early signs of macular degeneration. It is important to meet annually with your optometrist, especially after the age of 50, in order to check for early signs of drusen and begin macular degeneration treatment before symptoms progress too substantially. 

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