Macular degeneration is not always a result of aging. A person can experience macular degeneration at any age due to several factors, including diabetes, nutritional deficiencies, and genetic features.

The macula is a small area in the retina of the eye, responsible for central vision and seeing fine detail clearly. Macular degeneration describes a group of eye conditions that affect the central vision and can eventually lead to blindness.

In this article, we will discuss the different types of non-age-related macular degeneration, some early warning signs, and available treatments.

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Macular degeneration is not always related to age.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) stems from the natural aging process and is the most common type of macular-related degeneration. AMD isthe leading cause of vision loss for older adults.

However, several factors not related to age can lead to macular degeneration.

Non-age-related macular degeneration can happen for various reasons.

They include:

  • Genetics: A person can have approximately twice the risk of non-age-related macular degeneration if a parent has or has had the condition. An example of macular degeneration that a person might inherit is Stargardt disease. This typically begins in childhood. However, vision loss may not appear until adulthood.
  • Nutrition: If a person does not consume enough antioxidant-rich foods, vitamins, and minerals, there may be a higher risk of non-age-related macular degeneration.
  • Smoking: Smoking can increase the risk of non-age-related macular degeneration.
  • Diabetes: Diabetic macular edema (DME) can occur with diabetic retinopathy (DR). DR is a complication of diabetes that damages the blood vessels in the eyes. Approximately 1 in 15 people with diabetes will develop DME.
  • Injury: A blunt injury to the eye or head can cause a traumatic macular hole (TMH) that can result in macular degeneration and vision loss.
  • Infection: Central serous retinopathy (CSR) can occur after bacterial infection, certain medications, periods of stress, sleep disorders, or pregnancy.
  • Surgery or medications: Macular edemacan result from some types of medication use or eye surgery.
  • Nearsightedness: A person may develop myopic macular degeneration (MMD) if they have severe myopia, more commonly known as nearsightedness.

There are several warning signs a person with macular degeneration may experience.

They include:

  • blurry vision
  • dark patches in the vision
  • complete loss of sight in the center of the field of vision

An ophthalmologist is a specialist eye doctor.

To assess for MD, they may ask a person to look at an Amsler grid. This can help reveal whether they notice any blurry, distorted, or dark spots in their field of vision.

The doctor may also use a magnifying glass with a light to check the back of the eyes and the macula. They put pupil-widening eye drops in the person’s eyes so that they can see into the eyes more clearly.

An ophthalmologist may also use optical coherence tomography (OCT) or fluorescein angiography procedures to look more closely at the retina.

A person may consider undergoing genetic testing to help understand their condition further.

Not all forms of non-age-related macular degeneration have treatment available. However, there are several treatments that can help symptoms of some forms of non-age-related macular degeneration. These can include:

If there are no treatments available for the type of non-age-related macular degeneration a person has, there are a number of lifestyle changes a person can make that may help slow and manage their symptoms, including:

  • taking vitamins and minerals
  • eating a nutrient-rich diet that includes lots of eye-healthy foods such as dark, leafy greens
  • quitting smoking
  • using low-vision tools
  • seeking help and support for adapting to changing vision

Wet and dry macular degeneration are two types of AMD. They are not types of non-age-related MD.

Both types can affect central vision. However, wet AMD is typically a more sudden change, whereas dry AMD is a more gradual deterioration of vision. Wet AMD is more severe than dry AMD and needs urgent medical attention.

Although the most common form of macular degeneration is AMD, there are several different types of macular degeneration conditions that can have causes other than age.

Causes and risk factors for non-age-related macular degeneration can include diabetes, a lack of nutrients, injury, infection, and smoking.

One of the first signs of non-age-related macular degeneration is a blurring of vision. An ophthalmologist can make a full diagnosis by performing various tests.

Not all types of non-age-related macular degeneration have treatments available. However, a person can make certain lifestyle changes to help them adapt to any loss of vision.

Learn more about eye health and vision on our dedicated eye health hub.