What is aging Macular Degeneration?

The optometrist called it macular degeneration and put me in shock! I had never even worn glasses! Thirty or more years ago, I had cataracts removed at a North Carolina medical facility while traveling on the road in our RV. We were volunteering with other RVers at a national wildlife refuge. Because of my squeamishness with anything to do with my eyes….dating back to an accident with a dog when I was five years old ….I couldn’t even put in my own eye drops, and went to a neighboring RV every day to have someone put them in for me. How could I deal with something like macular degeneration? Better I find out more about it, I reasoned. New words to me, new sign of aging I had to deal with. So I searched books, google, and medical journals. The macula is that little area, like a little film, right in the center of the retina. It’s the part that makes the difference between seeing details vividly and clearly as on a sunny beautiful day and seeing them blurry and like through a rain-soaked window. It’s the part that makes 20-20 vision and differentiates among colors. It’s full of little nerves and cells and is arguably the most important part of the eye. It lies flat against the back wall of the eye on a cushion of fluid. Like all body parts, as you age, that back layer begins to deteriorate, and it gets more difficult to recognize faces, colors, fine details in objects; it gets more difficult to read and drive. All the little messages the optic nerve gets from the macula aren’t getting there to be brought to the brain. That’s the degeneration part of it. It is the leading cause of vision loss in the world, in the United States, more than 10 million people are affected by it. That’s more than people with cataracts. Or glaucoma. Or the combination of people with cataracts or glaucoma. What’s more, it’s still called an incurable eye disease. That’s enough to make you sit up and take notice…(no pun intended) Now I’m starting to get angry. How can this happen to me, I asked an astonishingly calm and understanding optometrist. I get my eyes checked every year, in fact had them checked as late as six months before. I eat decently though not perfectly, but I do love all kinds of vegetables and eat lots of salads. I never wore glasses. I don’t know much about vitamins but I’m a healthy specimen, having overcome both a stroke and cancer in the last five years. I can’t be losing my sight! Once home from that initial appointment, I decided to become more knowledgeable before having the prescribed eye injection. So I started to research. I learned there are two primary types of aging macular degeneration, “wet” and dry.” Dry isn’t quite as serious and is more common accounting for about 85 to ninety percent of the cases. The other 10 to 15 percent are wet. My degeneration was wet, the optometrist had said. He explained that that fluidy base the macula rests on is made of liquid and blood, and in ‘wet’ degeneration, the blood cells burst apart and start shoving up through that film, blocking its mission. That’s when the real trouble starts. It doesn’t seem like anyone, including the Macular Degeneration Foundation, which is loaded with information and assistance, knows precisely what causes all of this. For sure, both heredity and the environment are involved. Not much funding is put into the research of this disease so other causes have not yet been determined. Like so many other diseases, smoking is most likely a factor, some experts saying it doubles the risk of AMD (aging macular degeneration) It appears it is most likely to appear after age 55, affects white people more than other people of color, but genetics…whether there’s a family history, seems to be the largest risk. I wasn’t sure if that is a factor for me. My father died at 48, and while my mother was never diagnosed with it, I knew her vision wasn’t perfect several years before she died at age 95. But I could rule smoking out. I never did. Studies also show, that as the baby boomer generation ages, if scientists don’t come up with more prevention or treatment measures, age-related macular degeneration is going to reach epidemic proportions in ten years. Baby Boomers. Those kids born between 1946 and 1964. The “no known cure” part of the information I was gathering was upsetting. But the idea of having eye injections to help, or at least attempt to halt the rapidity of the degeneration, seemed like the only option. I was thrilled the schedule for that procedure had been moved up by two weeks. I wanted to meet the ophthalmologist I was going to let stick a needle in my eye. But I wanted to do some research on him first.


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