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Dry macular degeneration

Dry macular degeneration is a chronic eye disease that causes vision loss in the center of your field of vision. Dry macular degeneration is marked by deterioration of the macula (MAK-u-luh), which is in the center of the retina. The layer of tissue on the inside back wall of your eyeball.

Dry macular degeneration is one of two types of age-related macular degeneration. The other type — wet macular degeneration — is characterized by blood vessels that grow under the retina in the back of the eye, leaking blood and fluid. Dry macular degeneration is the more common form of the disease.

Dry macular degeneration may worsen your quality of life by causing blurred central vision or a blind spot in your central vision. You need clear central vision for many tasks, such as reading, driving and recognizing faces.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Dry macular degeneration symptoms usually develop gradually. You may notice these vision changes:

  • The need for brighter light when reading or doing close work
  • Increasing difficulty adapting to low light levels, such as when entering a dimly lit restaurant
  • Increasing blurriness of printed words
  • A decrease in the intensity or brightness of colors
  • Difficulty recognizing faces
  • A gradual increase in the haziness of your central or overall vision
  • Crooked central vision
  • A blurred or blind spot in the center of your field of vision
  • Hallucinations of geometric shapes or people, in case of advanced macular degeneration

Dry macular degeneration may affect one or both eyes. If only one eye is affected, you may not notice any changes in your vision because your good eye may compensate for the weak eye.

See your eye doctor if:

  • You notice changes in your central vision
  • Your ability to see colors and fine detail becomes impaired

These changes may be the first indication of macular degeneration, particularly if you're older than age 50.

The exact cause of dry macular degeneration is unknown, but the condition develops as the eye ages. Dry macular degeneration affects the macula — an area located at the center of your retina that is responsible for clear vision in your direct line of sight. Over time tissue in your macula may thin and break down.

Factors that may increase your risk of macular degeneration include:

  • Age. Your risk of macular degeneration increases as you age, especially after age 50. Macular degeneration is most common in people older than 65.
  • Family history of macular degeneration. If someone in your family had macular degeneration, you're more likely to develop the condition.
  • Race. Macular degeneration is more common in whites (Caucasians) than it is in other races.
  • Smoking. Smoking cigarettes increases your risk of macular degeneration.
  • Obesity. Being severely overweight increases the chance that early or intermediate macular degeneration will progress to the more severe form of the disease.
  • Unhealthy diet. A poor diet that includes few fruits and vegetables may increase the risk of macular degeneration.
  • Cardiovascular disease. If you have had diseases that affected your heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular disease), you may be at higher risk of macular degeneration.
  • Elevated cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol may be associated with a higher risk of macular degeneration.

Progression to wet macular degeneration

At any time, dry macular degeneration can progress to wet macular degeneration, which causes rapid vision loss. Doctors can't predict whether you'll develop wet macular degeneration.

Some people with dry macular degeneration may experience severe vision loss.

The following measures may help you avoid macular degeneration:

  • Have routine eye exams. Ask your eye doctor how often you should undergo routine eye exams. A dilated eye exam can identify macular degeneration.
  • Manage your other diseases. For example, if you have cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, take your medication and follow your doctor's instructions for controlling the condition.
  • Stop smoking. Smokers are more likely to develop macular degeneration than are nonsmokers. Ask your doctor for help to stop smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly. If you need to lose weight, reduce the number of calories you eat and increase the amount of exercise you get each day. Maintain a healthy weight by exercising regularly.
  • Choose a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Choose a healthy diet that's full of a variety of fruits, vegetables and leafy greens. These foods contain antioxidant vitamins that may reduce your risk of developing dry macular degeneration. Eating kale, spinach, broccoli, peas and other vegetables, which have high levels of antioxidants, including lutein and zeaxanthin, may also reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
  • Include fish in your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, may reduce the risk of dry macular degeneration. Nuts, such as walnuts, also contain omega-3 fatty acids.
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