Wet macular degeneration is an eye disease that can cause blurred vision or even blind spots in a person’s visual field. While it is not as common as dry macular degeneration, it does account for 90 percent of all cases of severe vision loss resulting from the disease.
Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 60. It happens when a small portion of the retina, referred to as the macula, deteriorates. Wet macular degeneration takes place when abnormal blood vessels leak fluid or blood into the macula. As a result, patients may see spots in the center of their field of vision or they may notice that straight lines appear wavy since the macula isn’t smooth anymore.
While some people with wet macular degeneration don’t notice any issues with their sight, abnormal blood vessels can grow under the retina (this process is called choroidal neovascularization or CNV), so getting eye exams on a regular basis is important. It is also worth noting that those who have dry macular degeneration can progress to having wet macular degeneration. The dry form of the disease involves the presence of yellow deposits, known as drusen, in the macula.
Causes and risks of wet macular degeneration
Approximately 10 percent of those with macular degeneration have the wet form. Wet macular degeneration can develop in different ways. Vision loss can occur when abnormal new blood vessels grow from the choroid under and into the macula. These abnormal vessels can leak fluid or blood, disturbing the functioning of the retina.
Wet macular degeneration can also be the result of fluid buildup in the back of the eye. When fluid leaks from the choroid, it can gather between the choroid and a thin layer called retinal pigment epithelium. This has the potential to create a bump on the macula, leading to vision loss.
We can’t say for certain what the exact cause of wet macular degeneration is, but there are factors that could increase your risk of getting the eye disease.
Here are the risk factors we know about:
- Age – macular degeneration is more common in people over 65.
- Smoking – regular exposure to smoke seems to increase one’s chances of macular degeneration.
- Family history – several genes have been linked to the development of the disease.
- Obesity – being obese increases the chances of early macular degeneration progressing to a more severe form.
- Cardiovascular disease – an association has been made between diseases of the heart and blood vessels and the risk of macular degeneration.
Signs and symptoms of wet macular degeneration
It’s unfortunate, but wet macular degeneration symptoms typically appear suddenly, and once present, they quickly get worse. Below is a list of common symptoms that people suffering from wet macular degeneration can face.
- Reduced central vision
- Decreased intensity of color brightness
- Visual distortions, such as wavy lines
- Blurry spot or blind spot in field of vision
- Haziness in overall vision
When wet macular degeneration progresses to the point where there is central vision loss, depression or visual hallucinations may occur. This is known as Charles Bonnet syndrome.
Thankfully, macular degeneration does not normally lead to total blindness.
Diagnosis and treatment of wet macular degeneration
If you experience an issue with your eyes, your doctor can do an eye exam and review your family history. If degeneration of any kind is suspected, an examination of the back of the eye will be conducted. Special instruments can help your doctor see whether fluid or blood has formed in the eye. During the exam, an Amsler grid can be used to test defects in your central vision.
There are other tests that can be conducted, including fluorescein angiography, which takes pictures of the blood flow in the eye and can tell the doctor if you have abnormal blood vessels or changes in your retina. Indocyanine green angiography can be used to detect specific types of macular degeneration. An optical coherence tomography test can give a doctor a detailed look at cross-sections of the retina.
Wet macular degeneration treatment could slow down the progression of the eye disease, and in some cases, help recover some vision loss. Treatments include taking medications to stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels, using light to activate injected medications, and using a laser to destroy abnormal blood vessels. There is also something called low vision rehabilitation. This means that you work with a vision specialist—a type of occupational therapist—who will help guide you through ways to adapt to your changing vision.
Prevention and lifestyle changes for wet macular degeneration
Reading, driving, and even recognizing otherwise familiar faces can be difficult if you have wet macular degeneration. There are some steps you can take to help manage the condition. The list below may be useful to you or someone you know who has macular degeneration.
- Use magnifiers – these tools include hand-held magnifying lenses or magnifying lenses you wear, like glasses.
- Experiment with computer adjustments – font size and monitor contrast can be adjusted. You can also add a speech-output system to your computer.
- Try electronic reading aids – audio books, large-print books, and tablet computers can be used.
- Implement special appliances – certain clocks, telephones, and other appliances have extra large numbers and letters.
- Seek support – counselors or support groups can be helpful for those working through the many changes that macular degeneration brings.
We often take our vision for granted until something goes wrong. The truth is, we can all take steps to protect our eye health. Regular eye exams are important since they can catch early signs of any eye condition, including macular degeneration. Managing other medical conditions can also help protect your vision. For example, if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, you should take medications as instructed and go for regular check-ups with your physician.
Smokers are more likely to develop macular degeneration than non-smokers, so if you are a smoker, consider talking to your doctor about ways to kick the habit. Today, there are many different approaches to quitting.
Getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight will also go a long way in protecting your eyes. Many nutritionists will tell you that what you eat is important when it comes to eye health.
The following are a couple of foods to boost eye health
- Fish: Cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel are known for being rich in omega-3 fatty acids. This may help protect against macular degeneration and even cataracts. Omega-3 can also be gotten through fish oil supplementation or vegetarian supplements that contain black currant seed oil or flaxseed oil.
- Leafily greens: Vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens are just some examples. They contain plant pigments such as lutein and zeaxanthin that can help prevent the development of macular degeneration and cataracts.
- Eggs: Packed full of vitamins and nutrients, including lutein and vitamin A that promotes eye health and function.
- Whole grains: A diet that contains food with a low glycemic index such as whole grain can help reduce the chances of developing age-related macular degeneration. This may include quinoa, brown rice, and whole oats. Whole grains contain vitamin E, zinc, and niacin that help promote overall eye health.
- Citrus fruits and berries: Vitamin C found it oranges, grapefruits, and other citrus fruit may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
- Nuts: Pistachios, walnuts, and almonds are just a few types of nuts. They are often rich in vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Sunflower seeds: An excellent source of vitamin E and zinc.
- Beef: Eating this protein in moderation can be beneficial. Beef contains zinc, which aids in your body absorbing vitamin A.
You may also want to consider asking your doctor if taking supplements is the right approach for you. The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that many people with eye conditions do well with supplements that are high in vitamins, such as C, E, zinc, and copper.
All of us should be getting regular eye examinations, but you should really see a doctor if you notice changes in your central vision, or if your ability to see colors and fine details is impaired. Such changes could be the first sign of macular degeneration, especially if you are over the age of 50.