As its name suggests, macular degeneration results from the degeneration of the macula, which is a small zone of the retina at the back of the eye near the optical nerve. It is this part of the eye which gives the best visual acuity. Macular degeneration involves a progressive and sometimes important loss of the central vision.
Age is the biggest risk factor for this disease. About 1 in 7 people aged 55 to 64 years and 1 in 3 people aged 75 and older will be affected. People with family histories of macular degeneration are more at risk.
Smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are all major risk factors as these all reduce the blood circulation towards the tissues of the eyes.
People who eat well, don’t smoke, and are physically active are 3 times less at risk of developing this disease.
There are two types of macular degeneration. The dry type evolves over many years, is less serious, and more common. The wet type is an aggravation of the dry type. This type involves the formation of new blood vessels in the choroid under the retina. Blood or other fluids can leak and damage the macula. This type involves a more rapid loss of vision and can deteriorate to the complete loss of central vision. In both types, the vision can lower in only one eye and be fine in the other. This disease never involves a total loss of eyesight, as the peripheral vision stays intact.
The symptoms of this disease involve a greater need for more light in order to read and work. The central vision becomes blurrier and foggier. There can also be a slow recovery of visual function after exposure to bright light.
Prevention is very important for this disease.
Regular eye tests are extremely important. An eye test every 5 years for people under 55, every 3 years for people between 55 and 65, and every 2 years for people older than 65. If your vision changes, it must be checked as soon as possible. A few other preventative steps are: quitting smoking, increasing antioxidant rich foods such as berries, eating a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables (especially dark green vegetables), eating omega-3 rich foods, and exercising regularly.
Acupuncture can be used for both types of macular degeneration.
It helps to stimulate better blood circulation around and to the eyes. It can also help with other contributing factors to this disease, such as help in quitting smoking and in maintaining a proper blood pressure. For anyone afraid of needles, keep in mind that for the wet type of macular degeneration anti-angiogenic medications are usually used. These medications help to stop the formation of new blood vessels under the retina. Unfortunately, these medications are injected directly into the eye, ideally each month! Acupuncture needles are practically hair thin and quite painless.