Non Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Why It Happens

Macular degeneration (MD) is an eye disease that affects the retina’s center (macula), leading to vision loss and impairment. While it’s more common in people over 50, it can develop in younger individuals, too. Non-age-related MD is perplexing and often overlooked – until now. Read on for the reasons macular degeneration occurs outside of the aging process.


Wet vs. Dry Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration has two forms: wet and dry. Both impact central vision in different ways.

  • Wet macular degeneration is a sudden and severe loss of sight due to abnormal blood vessels leaking fluid or blood into the macula. It needs immediate medical intervention.
  • Dry macular degeneration gradually thins and breaks down the macula. It is less severe than wet AMD, but it can still impair visual acuity and quality of life if not managed properly.


Causes of Non-Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Understanding the many possible causes and risk factors for non-age-related macular degeneration can aid in early detection and effective management.

  • Genetics: Individuals with a family history of macular degeneration are twice as likely to develop it. Stargardt disease is an example of an inherited form of macular degeneration, which usually begins in childhood. However, the associated vision loss may not appear until adulthood, highlighting the importance of genetic counseling and early monitoring in at-risk individuals.
  • Nutrition: A diet lacking antioxidant-rich foods, vitamins, and minerals can contribute to macular degeneration’s occurrence and progression at an early age. For instance, vitamins A, C, and E, along with zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, are necessary for maintaining eye health. Therefore, to mitigate this risk, eye doctors recommend a well-rounded diet rich in good fats and the best fruits and vegetables for your eyes.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes is a threat to retinal health. It can lead to diabetic retinopathy, which damages the delicate blood vessels in the retina. This damage can progress to diabetic macular edema, a common condition where fluid accumulates in the macula and leads to vision loss. About 1 in 15 individuals with diabetes will develop diabetic macular edema, stressing the need for stringent blood sugar control and regular eye exams.
  • Smoking: Smoking is a long-established risk factor for various eye diseases, including age- and non-age-related macular degeneration. Many of the 3000+ chemicals in tobacco smoke can lead to retinal degradation and blood flow reduction to the eyes, aggravating the condition. Doctors have been advising against smoking for decades, not only to preserve vision but to maintain overall good health. (Also read: Eye-Related Conditions Linked to Smoking)
  • Nearsightedness: Severe myopia, or nearsightedness, may contribute to myopic macular degeneration (MMD). This condition stems from the elongation of the eyeball, which stretches and thins the retina and macula, increasing the risk of degeneration and vision impairment. Regular eye checks are crucial for individuals with high myopia to detect early signs of MMD.
  • Injury: Trauma to the eye or head area can cause a traumatic macular hole, which can lead to MD and subsequent vision impairment. Such injuries emphasize the importance of eye protection at home, work, while outdoors, and during activities that pose a risk of blunt trauma. Learn more about what compromises eye safety at home, work, or during sports
  • Surgery or medications: Diabetes aside, some surgical procedures and medications can lead to macular edema, causing swelling and vision distortion. Patients undergoing eye surgery or taking specific medications should remain vigilant for signs of this condition.


Signs of Macular Degeneration

photo of a man's eyes

Someone with macular degeneration may experience the following warning signs:

  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty seeing in low-light conditions
  • Problems or changes in color perception
  • Seeing straight lines as curvy or wavy
  • Seeing blank or dark spots in the field of vision
  • Central vision loss

Unfortunately, many people with MD do not experience symptoms until the disease progresses. One of the best ways to detect it early is to have an eye exam every two years.


Strategies to Help Prevent Non-Age-Related Macular Degeneration

There are no guaranteed ways to prevent macular degeneration, but it’s possible to reduce one’s risk. Here’s how:

  • Quit smoking: Smoking is an established risk factor for MD, accelerating the damage to the macula. The harmful chemicals in tobacco can constrict blood vessels, reducing the blood flow to the eyes and exacerbating retinal damage. Quitting smoking can decrease overall risk and slow progression in people with MD.
  • Protect the eyes from sunlight: Some believe that excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun contributes to the development of non-age-related MD. Wearing sunglasses that block 100% of sunlight and a broad-brimmed hat can shield the eyes from harmful exposure. Consistent protection can minimize the risk of macular damage and other eye conditions over time.a healthy meal
  • Maintain a nutrient-rich diet: Research indicates that a diet rich in specific nutrients can help prevent or slow the progression of MD. Consuming fresh fruits and dark-green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, collard greens, and kale, is highly beneficial. These veggies are high in lutein and zeaxanthin–antioxidants vital for healthy eyes. Incorporating these foods into one’s diet can provide essential nutrients that support the macula.
  • Consider supplements for advanced MD: For individuals with intermediate or advanced dry MD, or any stage of the “wet” form of macular degeneration, high-dose combinations of antioxidant vitamins and minerals may lower the risk of progression to advanced MD. These supplements often include vitamins C and E, zinc, copper, among others. Consulting with an eye care professional about the appropriate supplements can provide personalized recommendations based on individual conditions.
  • Opt for foods high in omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3’s role in preventing MD remains unclear. However, including omega-3-rich foods, such as fish, in one’s diet can support optimal vision.

Macular degeneration, at any age, is a vision-threatening condition. While there’s no surefire way to prevent it, adopting a healthy lifestyle and implementing protective measures may reduce the likelihood of having it.


Treatment for Non-Age-Related Macular Degeneration

a person getting an eye examination

Several treatments can help symptoms of some forms of non-age-related MD. These include:

  • Laser treatment
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Anti-VEGF injections into the eyes


Dial 623-474-3937 to book an appointment with Arizona Retinal Specialists and determine which treatment option can help manage macular degeneration and preserve vision.

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