Macular Degeneration

As our activities outside increase we also expose our eyes to more ultra violet (UV) rays. Ultra violet rays are not visible to our eyes but their effects can be seen all over our bodies. Sun bathing is probably the most common use of UV rays. UV rays have more energy than the light and colors that we can see. The higher energy of UV rays is attributed to their wavelength which is why they carry more punch than the visible lights; this makes UV rays a bit more harmful to our bodies. UV rays release their energy when they come in contact with our eyes, the continuous exposure over years can cause mutations at the cellular level and damage to any number of the layers of the eye. In particular, UV rays are involved with development of cataracts and macular degeneration. One must not forget that there are other agents that can increase the chances of developing these eye conditions. Age, cigarette smoking, genetics and systemic diseases can also be factors which influence ocular health. In patients who develop macular degeneration, the retina can become compromised by developing abnormal cells central to the vision. There are two types of macular degeneration, dry and wet. Dry macular degeneration is the lesser of the two evils. Wet macular degeneration gets its name when new blood vessels are formed under the retina. Typically a patient’s retina starts with the dry kind and develops into the more severe, wet macular degeneration. New blood vessel formation is an indication of abnormal tissue function.

With wet macular degeneration the retina is trying to save itself from oxygen and food deprivation by creating new blood vessels. These newly formed blood vessels tend to be leaky and create an area beneath the retina that becomes a source for even more severe vision loss. Removal of these blood vessels is necessary to save the remaining tissue. The physiological changes to the retina at this point are extremely difficult to reverse due to the retina’s neural build up. Treatment of macular degeneration cannot be discussed in full in this article so we will talk about it in another. In short, “damage control” becomes the mode of operation. To save as much of the remaining vision as possible becomes paramount to the clinician and the patient. Unfortunately, what tissue damage has occurred is irreversible, normal vision is not an option at this point. The focus of this article is prevention by reducing or eliminating risks that can increase the chances of developing this condition. The simplest risk factor that one could eliminate is UV rays. This can be done be wearing glasses which are made with quality lenses that have UV filter and a protective tint. Sunglasses come in all shapes and forms, the main health concern with any such product is whether they provide you with maximum UV protection or not. Optical grade sun wear does provide the best protection for your eyes. Remember the UV filter that is applied to lenses is barely colored, so just because pair of glasses is tinted dark does not mean that it provides maximum protection. Cigarette smoking is very harmful to the retinal health because it promotes formation of free radicals. These are molecular entities that bind to a normal cell and reduce or totally disrupt its function.

To help the retina maintain its health one can supplement their diet with anti-oxidant rich food and supplements. Anti-oxidants are an important line of defense against free radicals.

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