Aging Eyes

By Ifeyinwa Ugo-Amadi

The retina’s central portion (macula) is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye. As adults age, loss of vision can arise at the centre of the visual field due to damage to the retina.
Amongst older people, this is a major cause of blindness and visual impairment. Caused by deterioration of the central portion of the retina is an age-related disease known as macular degeneration. Though painless, it affects the ability to see fine detail, drive, read and recognize faces. It does not cause complete blindness. However as it progresses, vision loss could occur due to the death of the RPE (Retinal Pigment Epithelium) cells. RPE cells are responsible for the movement of sugar, oxygen and nutrients to the retina and passing wastes products to the vessels (choroid) underneath.

The two forms of macular degeneration result in the detachment of the retina. They are:

Dry Form: This involves the accumulation of drusen (waste products) between the retina and the choroid. Loss of vision is gradual.

Wet Form: This is a more severe form. Abnormal blood vessels grow up from the choroid behind the retina. Loss of vision can occur within a short period.

Symptoms of macular degeneration include

·         Difficulty in reading

·         Dark patches at the centre of vision

·         Poor sensitivity of colours

Factors that expose people to macular degeneration are:

1.      Age:

2.      Family history: People with a patient of macular degeneration in the family have a risk of developing the disease.

3.      Smoking: Decreases the levels of antioxidant and increase the levels of free radicals.

Other risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol level and having a light skin. A healthy lifestyle that involves intake of fruits and vegetables, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight will help prevent or delay the onset of macular degeneration.

There is no cure for macular degeneration. No medical treatment is currently used to treat the dry macular degeneration. Treatment for wet MD is meant to stabilize and maintain the best vision for as long as possible and they include:

Laser therapy: This involves destroying and or sealing the leaky blood vessels using concentrated beam of high energy thermal light.

Photodynamic therapy:  This is a 2-step process combining the use of a light-activated drug with light from a cold laser.

Drugs that block the activities of the protein that is responsible for the leakage and growth of new blood vessels may be injected into the eye.

Research has shown that lutein (a pigment prominent in retina) and zeaxanthin (prominent in macula) play important roles in reducing the incidence of age-related macular degeneration. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in Spinach (Efo tete), cooked carrots, broccoli and eggs.

Huang Y-M et al. Changes following supplementation with lutein and zeaxanthin in retinal  
                function in eyes with early age-related  macular degeneration: a randomized,  
                double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. British Journal of Ophthalmology   2015;


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