But, as Dr. Lawrence Singerman, retinal specialist and ophthalmologist and founder of Retina Associates of Cleveland notes, the disease is actually occurring in much younger individuals. “It’s more like the leading cause of blindness for those over 55, or even 50,” he says.
Dr. Steven Meadows, an ophthalmologist at the Fairview Eye Center in Fairview Park, compares macular degeneration to a malfunctioning camera.
“The eye is like a camera, and the macula — the area at the center of the retina that is responsible for central vision — is like film,” he says. “When a buildup of drusen, debris that the eye has become unable to clear away, forms on the retina, it often leads to a steady decline in vision quality. Blurred vision and trouble with reading are often indicators of the disease.”
Singerman and Meadows note that annual eye exams help identify the desease earlier.
- Know your risk factors. “The most significant one is age,” Meadows says, adding that people who have a family history of the disease are more prone to contract macular degeneration. Eye color and race also play a part. “Macular degeneration is more common in Caucasians than in African Americans,” he adds, noting that studies indicate people with blue eyes may also be at higher risk for developing the disease.
- Eat right. “Eating leafy vegetables promotes eye health,” Singerman says, adding that including polyunsaturated fats, like those found in fish oil, has also been shown to slow the progression of the disease.
“Efforts to prevent macular degeneration are very similar to the methods followed by those concerned with their heart health,” he says. Results of the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, conducted by the National Eye Institute, indicate that taking vitamins A, C and E, as well as zinc and copper, in doses that can be found in over-the-counter medications such as PreserVision, can reduce the risk of developing severe visual loss by about 25 percent.”