What Are Retinal Drusen and Why Do They Matter?

As people age, most see an increase in fatty deposits all over their bodies. But did you know that some of these fatty deposits also end up in your eyes? Commonly known in the opthamology world as drusen, these fatty proteins (lipids) appear as yellow or white spots that accumulate under the retina. The retina is the part of the eye that triggers nerve impulses through the optic nerve to the brain, where a visual image is formed.

While it’s unknown if drusen actually cause age-related macular degeneration (AMD), having drusen increases the risk of developing AMD, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

There are two kinds of drusen: Small drusen may not cause vision problems for a long time, if at all, but larger drusen heighten the risk for advanced AMD, which can result in vision loss.

What Are Drusen and What Causes Them?

Drusen is a German word that means “rock” or “geode.” In the eye, drusen is cellular waste that can accumulate under the retina and potentially cause vision problems.

The retinal cells of the eye dump unwanted material, and usually the body’s immune cells clean up most of this. But for a number of reasons, including if the immune cells don’t function efficiently, this material can pile up.

One protein found in drusen is beta amyloid, which is also found in deposits inside the brains of people who have Alzheimer’s disease and may contribute to both diseases.

Fortunately, having AMD has not been linked to having a higher risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Drusen and Age-Related Macular Degeneration

senior looking at phoneDrusen are literally the marks of AMD. They can be detected during a dilated eye exam or with retinal photography. 

The risk of future vision loss is linked to the number and size of the drusen. Those with more and larger drusen deposits have a higher risk than those with fewer, smaller drusen.

Drusen are categorized as small, intermediate and large. Note that patients with about 20 or more intermediate drusen or at least one large “druse” were found to benefit from taking the antioxidant supplements lutein, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and copper. These antioxidant vitamins were shown to significantly reduce the risk of vision loss.

The presence of drusen indicates a potential for  some central vision loss in the future and are a precursor to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). There are two kinds of AMD: wet and dry. Wet AMD is caused when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the macula. An early symptom of wet AMD is that straight lines appear wavy. Wet AMD is always considered advanced degeneration.

The second kind of AMD is dry AMD. This occurs when the macula thins over time, causing the central vision to gradually become blurry. This form of AMD is the most common and accounts for 70-90% of cases. 

Only a thorough eye exam can determine the presence of drusen.

Early AMD

Patients with more than a few small drusen are said to have early AMD. Per the Macular Society, it’s important to note that many people with early AMD will never develop sight loss because the progress of the disease varies.

Early AMD has nothing to do with age. It refers to the stage of the disease. In early AMD, there is usually no vision loss, and there are some small or a few medium-sized drusen, which are about the thickness of a human hair.

It’s encouraging to note that with detection of early AMD, the risk is low for progressing to advanced AMD within the next five years. And even after 10 years, one study found that only 15% of people with no drusen or small drusen at diagnosis went on to develop large drusen.

Detection of early AMD is important because it helps assess the risk for advanced AMD and gives patients an estimated timeline.

Drusen Highlight the Importance of Regular Eye Exams

Talk with your doctor about drusen and your risk for AMD. If you get the diagnosis, ask what it means for your chances of disease progression as well as what potential treatment options might be right for you.

There’s currently no treatment for early AMD, but your doctor can give you suggestions to promote and maintain your eye health and protect your existing vision.

If you’re diagnosed with intermediate or late AMD, talk with your doctor about the possible course of the disease, what you might expect and treatment options. This can help you make decisions about which treatments are best for you and plan for how to compensate for any vision impairment you may experience.

For a Thorough Eye Exam, Visit Vision Source Plano

You only get one pair of eyes, and, in a survey done by John Hopkins University’s School of Medicine, 47% of people in the U.S. said that losing their vision is the worst health-related matter they could think of—worse than losing hearing or even losing a limb.

At Vision Source Plano, our individualized approach to optometry makes Dr. Malone and staff the eye and vision care providers of choice in the Plano area. We offer the following services: 

  • Complete eye exams
  • Contact lenses and glasses
  • Glaucoma testing
  • Pre/post-operative care
  • Dry eye treatment and diagnosis

We also work with other practitioners in the control and treatment of diabetic eye disease.

We offer financing options and work with your vision insurance provider to ensure the best in eye health and vision care.

For a complete list of services, visit our services page or call our Plano office at (972) 612-2099.

At Vision Source Plano, we are dedicated to providing high-quality optometry services in a comfortable environment. 

Call us at (972) 612-2099, or schedule an appointment online today.

Disclaimer: The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

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