How Common Are Degenerative Retinal Conditions?
As a medical term, degeneration refers to a process in which a specific part of the body breaks down and loses some or all of its function. Degeneration can occur naturally due to the passage of time as we age or because of a specific medical condition. When it comes to the retina, many conditions can cause degeneration of the retinal tissues, resulting in symptoms such as loss of vision, blurriness, distorted vision, an increase in flashes and/or floaters, difficulty completing everyday tasks like reading or driving, and even pain.
Retina Conditions Where Degeneration Can Occur
- Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) – This condition develops in one of two forms: wet AMD and dry AMD. The dry form is more common, but it can later develop into the wet form. In AMD, the center part of the retina deteriorates over time. Blurry vision and a blind spot in your central vision are two primary symptoms to be aware of. Although some patients with AMD can permanently lose their vision, there are steps that can be taken to prevent this condition from occurring or worsening, including lifestyle adjustments and medications.
- Diabetic Retinopathy: Untreated or poorly managed diabetes can harm the blood vessels throughout the body, including those contained within the back part of the eye. High levels of glucose in the bloodstream can damage these blood vessels, causing them to leak fluid and blood into the retina. This can cause swelling (also known as macular edema), the growth of abnormal blood vessels (i.e. neovascularization), and retinal cell death. The most serious forms of diabetic retinopathy can lead to irreversible vision loss and blindness.
- Macular Hole: Located in the back of the eye, the macula can sometimes break or tear to create a hole. This is most often caused by a condition of aging known as posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), which is a process in which the gel-like fluid that fills the eye (i.e. the vitreous humor) begins to diminish in quantity and viscosity. Most of the time, this causes no problems, but sometimes the vitreous humor is a little extra sticky and may adhere to the retina. As it shrinks away, it can pull on the retina, causing a small tear or hole.
- Retinitis Pigmentosa: This is a genetic condition in which the photoreceptor cells of the retina, known as rods and cones, deteriorate. Although most patients with retinitis pigmentosa will not go fully blind, they may find that their vision slowly gets worse over time. The condition typically affects central vision, peripheral vision, night vision, and color perception.
- Lattice Degeneration: This condition is characterized by abnormal thinning of the retina’s outer edges. In most cases of lattice degeneration, patients do not experience any noticeable changes to their vision and may not even realize that they have an issue. However, lattice degeneration does make it more likely for a patient to experience a retinal tear or detachment, which is a medical emergency.
Protecting Your Vision Against Degenerative Diseases of the Retina
While retinal cell degeneration may not be something that can always be avoided entirely, there are proactive steps patients can take to maintain the quality of their vision:
- Schedule and attend regular eye exams.
- Confirm whether the status of current or potential underlying health conditions can impact your vision.
- Manage your overall wellness through healthy eating, physical activity, and medications, as advised by your doctor(s).
- Pay attention to any changes in your vision.
Get Advanced Retinal Care in Queens & Long Island, NY
If you have recently started to experience changes in your vision, have an underlying condition like diabetes, or simply want to be proactive about your retinal health, contact Vitreoretinal Consultants of NY today. We serve all of Queens, Long Island, and beyond. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.