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How to Recognize the Early Signs of Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration is often cited as the most common cause of blindness among Americans aged 65 and older. Estimates say that by 2020 as many as 3 million Americans may suffer vision loss as a result of this condition. The degradation of the central portion of the retina, known as the macula, is as yet incurable, but with early detection, lifestyle changes and nutrition may be able to slow the progression of the disease.

Detection Before Symptoms Occur

The best way to detect macular degeneration early enough to attempt to delay its onset is to have regular eye exams.  During a retinal exam, your eye doctor may be able to see damage to the macula before you detect any symptoms.  This is another reason to have regular eye exams as you age. 

Symptoms of Macular Degeneration

If you notice any of the following symptoms, it is important that you see your eye doctor quickly to learn whether you have macular degeneration and how you might be able to slow its progression.

  • Shadowy or distorted areas in your central vision
  • Difficulty adapting to low light, especially for sensitive vision tasks like reading
  • Difficulty reading
  • Diminished color intensity
  • Difficulty recognizing faces

Prevention of Macular Degeneration

Although two main factors associated with macular degeneration—aging and heredity—cannot be changed, there are several ways that you can help to reduce your risk of developing this condition:

  • Exercise
  • Control high blood pressure
  • Stop smoking
  • Get good nutrition

Although none of these can stop macular degeneration, some of them can make a big impact.  Regular exercise seemed to reduce a person's risk of getting advanced macular degeneration by up to two thirds.  And good nutrition seems to reduce the risk by as much as 28 percent.

Nutrition to Control Macular Degeneration

In 2001, the National Eye Institute released the results of its Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), which evaluated the effect of some nutrients on the development of macular degeneration.  According to the results of the study, a person with early macular degeneration should consume:

  • 500 mg vitamin C
  • 400 international units vitamin E
  • 15 mg beta-carotene
  • 80 mg zinc oxide

Since some of these nutrients can interact with other medications and supplements, it is best to consult with your doctor before taking them.

If you suspect that you may be suffering the early effects of macular degeneration, don't wait—schedule an eye exam with an ophthalmologist today to protect your vision.

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