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Macular degeneration and vision loss

Macular degeneration affects some 12 million Americans over the age of 55. A strong genetic component is thought to play a role in the development of macular degeneration, but researchers are not sure of the precise cause.

Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of vision impairment and the debilitating loss of central, focal vision.

What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration is the reduction of function of the macula, the portion of the retina that allows the eye to focus. The macula is the part of the eye on which the lens focuses the light gathered by the eye. The macula is at the center of the retina, sometimes called the "bull's-eye" of the human eye's anatomy.

What does macular degeneration do to your vision?

Macular degeneration reduces the eye's ability to focus clearly and to distinguish color. Some people afflicted with macular degeneration find that they lose portions of their vision - gaining blind spots. This process can continue to affect the vision and lead to profound diminishment in visual capability.

What are the symptoms of macular degeneration?

Because the brain is very clever at compensation, the symptoms of macular degeneration usually do not appear until the disease is quite advanced.

The symptoms of macular degeneration may include blurring and dim colors in the center of the visual field; distortion of straight lines; or a dark or empty area in the center of vision. All of these symptoms affect the center of the visual field becuase macular degeneration causes the degradation of the center of the retina.

What steps help prevent macular degeneration?

There are a number of steps that can be taken to aid in macular degeneration progress and may even encourage reversal.

1. A low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is important. Some types of macular degeneration are caused by fatty deposits in the structures of the eyes. A healthy diet low in cholesterol can prevent these deposits. Try to eat at least two servings of leafy, dark green vegetables per day.

2. Always protect your eyes from UV light. Wear sunglasses that provide ultraviolet protection, as the intense UV radiation can hasten macular degeneration.

3. Don't smoke. Avoid exposure to second-hand smoke. Cigarette smoke can constrict blood vessels and hamper circulation, and macular degeneration can be worsened by lack of circulation to the retina. In fact, anything that hampers blood flow and/or blood circulation only makes macular degeneration more severe.

4. Eat foods rich in Vitamins C and E as well as the antioxidant lutein. Lutein is found in spinach, kale and other dark green leafy vegetables.

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