Macular Degeneration is an eye disease that affects the macula, located towards the back of the eye, along the retina. The macula is the part of the eye that is responsible for processing light in order to generate sharp, detailed and clear images that are then sent to the brain. Macular Degeneration typically does not appear until age 40, and Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMG) typically develops in people aged 55 and older.
Hereditary and Age Appear to be Main Causes
Because of its prevalence among family members, it is believed that genetics play a major role in the development of Macular Degeneration. Genetics also plays a role in AMG; however with AMG the simple aging process seems to be the bigger contributing factor.
To date, scientists have identified the gene they believe plays a significant role in the development of Macular Degeneration. This gene is called complement factor H (CFH). In addition to this gene, a gene on chromosome 10 called PLEKAH1 is also suspect. Much more study is required to fully understand the roles these two suspect genes play in this eye disease that today strikes 10 million people aged 40 and over.
In the rare cases in which Macular Degeneration strikes younger individuals, it is believed that something other than genetics or age leads to a build-up of abnormal blood vessels behind the retina. Myopia and infection are being studied as the causes in these cases.
Other Causes Being Investigated
Several risk factors have also been associated with the onset of Macular Degeneration. Smoking is believed to have a significant impact on its development. If you smoke you can add reducing the risk of developing Macular Degeneration to the list of reasons why you should quit – now!
Age is a factor in Macular Degeneration, too. Rarely is this disease diagnosed in persons under the age of 40. The older a person gets, the greater the chances become that he or she will begin to develop symptoms of this eye disease. Gender is thought to be a factor as well, with females being at greater risk than men. Race plays a role too, with Caucasians being affected much more than African Americans.
More studies are being conducted to determine whether a person’s diet can increase the risks. Early results seem to be suggesting a connection to the onset of Macular Degeneration and an increased intake of saturated fats/high cholesterol levels. A decrease in antioxidant levels is cause for concern too. Antioxidants, found in fruits and vegetables, help prevent cells from oxidizing, a process that leads to their ultimate destruction.
Studies are also being conducted to see whether exercise can reduce the risks of developing Macular Degeneration. There is belief that keeping blood pressure within “normal” ranges will reduce the risks associated with AMG. Exercise combined with diet is a great way to regulate blood pressure.
One final area being studied is the impact of direct sunlight. However, instead of waiting for results just put on a pair of sunglasses!