Age Related Macular Degeneration – When your vision is not keeping up with you

Mopani Pharmacy consulted optometrist Dave Kenyon recently, on the topic of age-related impaired vision – or more specifically, Age Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD). “Getting old is not easy”. You are taught to look after your hips and back, but what about your eyes? Is there anything to be done about your eyes as you age?

What is Age Related Macular Degeneration?

“It happens with the aging population. It affects the central vision area of the eye and may get worse with time. This means that even corrected with the best spectacles, your central vision is blurry. It is the leading cause of severe permanent vision loss in the elderly”, he explained.

Who is most likely to suffer from it?

Our expert confirmed, that even though the condition has a hereditary link, not all children of parents who suffer from ARMD will indeed inherit the problem.

“Of course, there are risk factors – smoking, high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity and diabetes are all risk factors. Interestingly, fair-skinned females are more prone to ARMD, but that could be because it is said that they live longer”, he continued.

“Recently, gout sufferers and post cataract surgeries have also been added to the list. Gout is associated with abnormally high levels of uric acid in the blood, which is related to oxidative stress”.

Persons with retinal implants may allow more blue- or UV-rays to penetrate the eye, which may also affect your vision.

Types of ARMD

“Macular Degeneration starts in the deeper layers of the eye – Retinal pigment Epithelium and Bowman’s membrane – and starts to slowly affect the sensory layers that you see with”, Dave explained.

There are 2 forms of ARMD:

  • Dry form

This develops yellow/white deposits called Drusen. These are seen as spots in the macula area and are like losing a few pixels in a camera. Eventually this may lead to the loss of central vision.

  • Wet form

The Macula swells due to blood vessels growing underneath. The leaking causes scars leading to permanent vision loss.

Is this preventable?

“Unfortunately, it is a progressive disease and vision rarely improves permanently”, he explained.

You can check your progression with an Amsler Grid, which is a pattern grip of straight lines with a central fixation spot. Wavy lines can be a sign of macular degeneration.

A procedure called Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) shows a cross section of the back of the eye and some new machines even simulate as if a dye had been injected. “This procedure is more common in the wet form which can be treated with injections by your ophthalmologist”, he said, continuing, “A photograph of the back of your eye usually displays the dry form. Not a pretty picture, but it does go some way to explain why your vision is not optimal!”

The dry form is most commonly treated with supplements that contain Lutein and Zeaxanthin. Lutein and Zeaxanthin are normally recommended by an eye care professional.

“A study done by a major retailer claims that 80% of their clients were happy with Ocuvite”, said Dave.

“Other therapies include laser therapy and photodynamic laser therapy where a drug is injected and absorbed by the blood vessels. This is then shone with a laser to damage the vessels to stop leakage”, he concluded.

Help! I can’t see

For reading, Dave recommends magnification when you have low or failing vision, “If something is twice as large it is obviously easier to see. Not all magnifiers are the same. Before you buy, compare the quality. Generally, the better ones will come with a light and when you look through it, the total areas should be clear, not just a small central area. Also keep the minimum magnification that allows you to see adequately. The higher the magnification, the smaller the area”.

Electronic magnifiers are helpful, and can make reading so much easier as some even move side to side for you, but they can be very pricey!

“Don’t forget, your cell phone and even your iPad can be helpful in this regard,” said Dave.

For driving, Dave recommends a Bioptic device if your vision is not too impaired, “A bioptic device is like a small telescope attached to the spectacles. At this stage, there is no legislation against the use of these devices. Visual acuity can be improved and could make a difference in passing your license or driving more safely”.

Supplements for eye health

There are many brands of products containing different formulations for promoting overall eye health. Generally, a balanced diet with leafy vegetables should be your primary source of vitamins and minerals.

“Lutein and Zeaxanthin, Zinc, Vitamin A, B1, Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin C are important. But most of all remember that a balanced diet beats them all”, said Dave.

“Lutein and Zeaxanthin have been proven to thicken the retinal pigment epithelium and protect against retinal damage caused by ageing. These are pigments called carotenoids. They are only found in plants, with spinach and kale (like a Chinese cabbage) in the highest concentration. One cup of spinach or kale every day could give you 20mg or you could take a tablet.”

Dave went on to say that most ophthalmologists recommend Ocuvite, as they are antioxidants and they help to shield cells in the retina from high energy UV/Blue light.

“In the case of ARMS, the supplements for this condition specifically, are not necessary until you have been diagnosed as they have been proven ineffective in the early stages. If you have been diagnosed, then it is necessary to take the supplements as long as they do not interfere with other medication supplements to assist with eye health”, he concluded.

If you would like to consult Dave on your eye health and have an eye-examination done, you can book an appointment on 013 755 2276. His practice is located at Crossing Centre, near the pet store.

We have a large range of eye-care products and supplements available at Mopani Pharmacy. If you need help choosing the correct product for you, talk to our pharmacists or knowledgeable sales staff.

Read more: Exercise is Medicine – Aging gracefully

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