A Lupus Patient's Guide To Understanding Macular Degeneration

Michelle Hopkins

After years of battling lupus, a diagnosis of macular degeneration can be particularly devastating. So what exactly is macular degeneration? Is it related to lupus?

What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration is a common, yet serious eye disorder. In your eye, there are the visible parts—the iris, the pupil, and the lens. Behind the scenes, you have your retina. The center of your retina is called the macula. The macula helps you discern details—without it, your vision would be obscured and blurry. Macular degeneration refers to the breaking down of the macula.

There are two types of macular degeneration—wet and dry. Out of the 10 million Americans with the disease, up to 90% of them suffer from the dry form. Dry macular degeneration involves a very gradual breakdown of the macula that usually spreads to both eyes. The wet form of the disease is more likely to cause blindness—in this form, as the macula breaks down, an increase in blood and fluid in the retina further damage the macula.

What are the symptoms?

Macular degeneration typically starts with mild visual disturbances—straight lines no longer look straight, you may be less likely to see fine details, and your center of vision looks blurry and dark. As the disease progresses, these symptoms will grow more severe. Macular degeneration may lead to partial blindness in one or both eyes, though it does not always progress to that stage. Early diagnosis and treatment can help stop the spread of the disease.

Is there a connection between macular degeneration and lupus?

Studies have not conclusively linked lupus and macular degeneration. That being said, one third of lupus sufferers have noticed visual problems, including macular degeneration. One study did find a slight increase of macular degeneration in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus—this form of lupus was found in .07% of the control group, and .13% of the group with macular degeneration. Whether lupus itself leads to macular degeneration or it's a side effect of medications used to treat lupus isn't clear. Ultimately, more research is needed to make a definitive connection.

Can it be treated?

Macular degeneration is treatable, especially when caught early. One common form of treatment is injecting certain medications directly into the eye to prevent blood from pooling in the retina and damaging the macula. Other forms of treatment include laser therapy, glasses, and Vitamin A supplements. Although there currently is no cure, medication can be very successful at managing the symptoms of macular degeneration.

Lupus is debilitating enough without having to worry about your eyesight. If you begin to notice symptoms of macular degeneration, seek treatment as soon as possible to protect your vision. Peters Richard OD is a reputable eye doctor in your area who can answer your questions.