What to Know About the Leading Cause of Vision Loss for Older Adults

As you get older, all of your body systems begin to be affected, and your eyes are no exception. One eye disorder in particular can be sneaky at first but can also end up robbing you of your vision completely. Macular degeneration affects about ten million people in the United States, and it leads the way for loss of vision issues among those age 55 and older. To learn more about this devastating disorder, read on for nine quick and easy facts.

1. The "macular" in the term macular degeneration refers to a part of the eye, the macula. Situated in the center of the retina, this part of eye assists with tasks that require straight-on vision, like reading.

2. There are often no early symptoms of this disorder, but the beginning stage can be detected by a regular vision exam. The initial symptoms are nearly unnoticeable, such as a white or blurry area in your central vision or a distortion when viewing a straight line. In time, colors begin to look faded, and your overall vision begins to blur. Eventually, the disease progresses to the point that only the vision in the outer areas of the eye is unaffected.

3. This is a genetic disorder, but other risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, exposure to bright sunlight, having a lighter eye color, and more.

4. Yellow deposits, called drusen, are red flags for macular degeneration, and they can be detected during your exam.

5. It's possible to have this disorder in only one eye or to have it in both eyes but in different stages. If you do have it in one eye only, your risk of it eventually impacting your "good" eye is increased.

6. The low vision caused by macular degeneration can be coped with using several different devices, such as high-level magnified reading glasses, LED-lighted magnifying lamps, large-print materials, and magnifiers for computer monitors and television screens. Talking watches, clocks, and calculators can come in handy as well.

7. Sadly, there is no cure for macular degeneration, but if caught early its progress may be slowed or even halted by the use of injections, photo-dynamic therapy, and laser surgery.

8. Supplements are now being used in the hope of fending off this disease, according to the National Eye Institute. Pills taken daily include a mixture of lutein, beta carotene, copper, zinc, and vitamins E and C. These "eye vitamins" are available over the counter.

9. Progress continues to be made into research for a cure or a fix, including the experimental use of a tiny telescope surgically inserted into the eye's field of vision.

See your eye doctor for regular eye exams; early treatment could help save your vision.