The most common degenerative eye disease is called macular degeneration and is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in North America and in many other parts of the world. The disease mostly affects people over the age of 50; an age group where each passing year increases their risk of developing the disease. The number of people with macular degeneration is expected to double within the next 10 years from 1.5 million in 2009 to three million by 2020.
The macula is a tiny circle located in the middle of the retina, which is responsible for forward vision. For unknown reasons, the macula degenerates over time to a point where it begins to affect vision. There are two forms of this degenerative eye disease, including wet macular degeneration and dry macular degeneration.
Dry macular degeneration accounts for about 90 per cent of all cases of the disease, which is fortunate since it is the less severe version of macular degeneration and can be partially treated. In dry cases, the tissue of the retina begins to shrink and pigments accumulate within causing vision to blur. By using a combination of vitamins containing antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin, it is possible to slow the progression of and even treat dry macular degeneration.
Wet macular degeneration is caused by the development of new blood vessels behind the macula. These highly fragile blood vessels are known to leak fluid and bleed. As these materials settle, they scar, causing irreversible damage that slowly destroys a person’s ability to see.
The causes of degenerative eye diseases are typically linked to the following:
- Age: 10 per cent of people aged 66 to 74 have some kind of macular degeneration. This increases to 30 per cent for people aged 75 to 85;
- Genes: If a family member has had macular degeneration, the likelihood of developing the disease increases to 50 per cent. Someone without a family history of this disease has only a 12 per cent chance of developing it;
- Smoking: The risk of developing macular degeneration increases two to three times over for tobacco users, as compared to someone who has never smoked;
- Sun: Studies have shown that people with a higher exposure to sunlight have an increased risk of developing macular degeneration;
Drusen: Studies have shown that people with large drusen deposits are at a higher risk of developing a degenerative eye disease than those without;
- High Blood Pressure: Science has shown a link between high blood pressure and developing macular degeneration;
- Race: Interestingly, macular degeneration is significantly higher in Caucasians than in those with darker skin;
- Fat Intake: Diets that are high in fat have a significantly increased rate of developing degenerative eye diseases;
- High Cholesterol: People with high cholesterol are slightly more likely to have serious macular degeneration than those with normal cholesterol levels;
- Obesity: Overweight and sedentary lifestyles double the risk of macular degeneration when compared to those who have a normal body weight and exercise regularly; and
- Eye colour: Pigmentation in the eyes also plays a role according to some studies. Lighter coloured eyes seem to have a higher chance of developing a degenerative eye disease than darker coloured eyes.