Macular Degeneration, also known as Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), is a leading cause of vision loss in adults aged 60 and older. The disease is characterized by a gradual loss of central vision and can occur in one eye or both eyes simultaneously.
Macular Degeneration is a disease that damages the macula, which is the center of the retina responsible for sharp visual acuity in the central field of vision. The breakdown of the macula eventually results in the loss of central vision and the ability to see fine details. While AMD doesn’t result in complete blindness, the quality of vision is severely compromised leading to what we refer to as low vision.
The loss of central vision can interfere with the performance of everyday tasks such as driving, reading, writing, cooking, or even recognizing faces of friends and family. The good news is, there are many low vision aides on the market now that can assist in helping you to perform these tasks.
What are the Symptoms of Macular Degeneration?
In the early stages of AMD, you might not have any noticeable symptoms. By the time significant symptoms manifest, irreversible damage may have already occurred.
Symptoms of macular degeneration may include:
- Decreased or blurry vision
- Dark or blind spots in the center of your vision
- Lines appearing wavy
- Different color perception
Stages of Dry Macular Degeneration
There are three stages of age-related macular degeneration.
- Early AMD: Medium-sized drusen deposits and no pigment changes. Most people have no loss of vision at this point
- Intermediate AMD: Large drusen and/or pigment changes. There may cause mild vision loss, but most people don’t experience any problems with their daily tasks
- Late AMD: Vision loss has become noticeable
Are You at Risk of Developing Macular Degeneration?
The biggest risk factor for AMD is age, with individuals over 60 most likely to develop the disease. Additional risk factors include:
- Smoking: According to research smoking can double the risk of AMD.
- Genetics and Family History: If AMD runs in your family you are at a higher risk. Scientists have also identified a number of particular genes that are associated with the disease.
- Race: Caucasians are more likely to have AMD than those of Hispanic or African-American descent.
- Lifestyle: Obesity, high cholesterol or blood pressure, poor nutrition, and inactivity all contribute to the likelihood of getting AMD.
Can AMD Be Prevented?
If you’re at risk of developing AMD, there are things you can do to prevent or slow the progression of AMD:
- Get regular eye exams. If you are 50 or over, get examined on an annual basis.
- Stop smoking.
- Know your family history and inform your eye doctor.
- Eat well and exercise regularly: Research indicates that a healthy diet rich in key nutrients for the eyes, such as orange peppers, kale, and spinach, along with regular exercise, may reduce your risks or slow the progression of AMD.
- Maintain healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
- Take dietary supplements: Studies by the National Eye Institute called AREDs and ARED2 indicated that a high dosage of supplements of zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, and lutein may slow the progression of advanced dry AMD (it is not recommended for those without AMD or early AMD). Speak to a doctor before taking these supplements as there may be associated risks involved.
- Wear 100% UV-blocking sunglasses.
By knowing your risk, taking preventative measures, and visiting your eye doctor on a regular basis, you can greatly reduce your chances of developing this debilitating disease.
Types of Macular Degeneration
There are two types of AMD, wet and dry.
Dry AMD (non-neovascular)
Dry AMD is the most common form of the disease, making up about 85%-90% of all cases of AMD. It is characterized by blurred central vision or blind spots, as the macula begins to deteriorate. Dry AMD is an early stage of the disease and is less severe than the wet form.
Dry AMD occurs when the aging tissues of the macula begin to thin out and break down. Tiny pieces of white or yellowish protein called drusen begin to appear, which are thought to be deposited from the macular tissue as it deteriorates. The appearance of these drusen is often what leads to a diagnosis of AMD during an eye exam.
With dry AMD vision loss happens gradually, however, the dry form can progress to wet AMD rapidly. There is currently no cure for dry AMD, however, there is research that shows that some people can benefit from supplemental vitamin therapy including antioxidants, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Wet AMD (neovascular)
Wet AMD is less common, affecting about 10 % of those with the condition. This type of AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels develop under the retina and leak fluid and blood into the macula, resulting in blind spots and a loss of central vision. Wet AMD can cause more damage to vision and permanent scarring if not treated promptly, so any sudden blur in vision should be assessed immediately, especially if one is aware that they have AMD. Usually, vision loss happens faster and is more noticeable than in dry AMD so the earlier it is treated, the more vision is preserved.
How is Macular Degeneration Treated?
While there is no cure for macular degeneration, treatments do exist to delay the progression of the disease, preserve existing vision and sometimes even improve vision loss. For example, certain nutritional supplements, including omega 3 fatty acids, lutein, and zeaxanthin, can prevent the progression of the disease to the more advanced wet form, which can cause more severe vision loss.
There are a couple of options for treating wet AMD to slow the progression of vision loss which include medicated injections and laser therapy. These therapies are designed to stop the development of new blood vessels, destroy existing ones, and prevent leakage into the macula.
Those having sustained significant vision loss can benefit from the many low vision devices on the market which utilize your existing vision to assist in maintaining your independence. Such devices include standing and hand-held magnifiers telescopes and other aides that can help to improve your vision.
The most important thing you can do to protect your vision is to visit your eye doctor regularly and have a comprehensive eye exam to detect AMD in its early stages when treatment is most effective. To learn more or to schedule your eye exam, contact us today.