Macular degeneration: Keep eye health in focus
From the Spring 2007 Issue of Discover RUSH Oak Park
Whether you’re devouring a good book, taking a scenic drive or enjoying a child’s smile, your vision is precious to you.
That’s why you need to know about an all-too-common threat to your eyes — macular degeneration — and how you can protect against vision loss.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the macula at the center of the eye’s retina. Although painless, the condition destroys the central vision you need for activities such as reading and driving. “It’s the most common cause of irreversible vision loss and blindness in older Americans,” says Pauline Merrill, MD, an ophthalmologist at RUSH Oak Park Hospital.
Protect your vision
Getting older is the main risk factor for AMD, but a family history of the condition also increases your risk. Although you can’t change your age or your genes, you do have the power to choose healthy habits that may help lower your risk for AMD — starting now.
“The biggest reversible risk factor is smoking,” Merrill says. In addition to not smoking, she recommends choosing a healthy diet, including plenty of fruits, vegetables and fish. Research suggests that people who eat a lot of green, leafy vegetables have a lower risk for AMD.
Also, strive for a healthy weight, and control your blood pressure and cholesterol — risk factors for both heart disease and AMD. Your doctor can help you prevent or manage these problems.
Get checked out
Complete, regular eye exams can help detect early signs of AMD and other vision problems. If you’re healthy and have no eye problems, you may only need to see your ophthalmologist every other year, Merrill says. Some people need more frequent screenings, so check with your doctor.
Also, report any vision changes right away. For example, tell your doctor if your vision seems blurry or if straight lines appear wavy. While there is no cure for AMD, newer treatments can help slow or stop its progression and help many people keep their vision. But early detection remains key. “It’s very important to diagnose AMD early to avoid vision loss, if possible,” Merrill says.
Finally, if you or someone you know has low vision, ask your doctor about a low-vision evaluation. Special services and devices are available to help those living with vision loss.
Remember, vision loss can also be caused by other health conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, so see your doctor regularly. To make an appointment with a physician at RUSH Oak Park Hospital, call (708) 660-INFO (4636).