Taking a Closer Look at Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration, also called AMD, is a leading cause of vision loss in older Americans.
This eye disease damages the macula, a small region in the center of the eyes light-sensitive tissue called the retina. The macula contains millions of cells that give a sharp, central, and color vision the vision that we use to read, write, watch TV, drive, and do other everyday tasks.
Because AMD is a progressive disease it may worsen with time; however, it advances differently from person to person and even from eye to eye. Some people go for years without noticeable symptoms while others experience rapid vision loss.
Eye care professionals can detect AMD and monitor its progress with a dilated eye exam. Special eye drops widen or dilate the pupils and magnifying equipment gives a better view of the retina. This can reveal any changes such as a buildup of drusen, the small yellowish deposits that form beneath the macula and can indicate AMD.
In the early stage of AMD, vision is rarely affected, although some people may have difficulty reading in low-light or seeing small electronic screens.
In the intermediate stage, most people still don't have significant symptoms, although some may need more light or magnification to read or see fine details.
In the late stage most people have some vision loss. The person may notice a blurred spot developing in the center of their vision which can grow and darken over time. Straight lines may start to look wavy and objects may appear to change shape or move. Color vision and the ability to see contrast in shading can also decline.
There are two types of late-stage AMD. In dry AMD, the macula gradually breaks down . In wet AMD, abnormal and fragile blood vessels grow underneath the macula, leak, and cause swelling and damage that can lead to rapid and severe vision loss. AMD rarely causes complete blindness; however, wet AMD can lead to legal blindness without proper treatment.
So what can you do to reduce your risk of AMD?
The disease is more common with age and people over 60 at the highest risk. People with a family history of AMD and who are Caucasian also have a higher risk. While you can't change your age or your family tree, there are things you can do to prevent or delay vision loss. Don't smoke and quit if you do. Wear proper sunglasses, eat a diet rich and vision protecting vitamins and minerals, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight.
Work with your healthcare professional to control high blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors. Get regular comprehensive dilated eye exams especially if you notice changes in your vision.
The earlier AMD and other eye diseases are detected the more treatment options are available. Although currently there are no treatments for early AMD, a healthy lifestyle can help you keep your vision longer.
The AREDS2 supplements, a combination of certain high dose vitamins, have been shown to help slow vision loss and intermediate AMD.
For wet AMD, there are treatments available that can help slow its progress and even restore vision loss. After numbing the eye, a drug is injected that works by blocking a protein that promotes new blood vessel growth. These injections can be intimidating at first but it's important not to skip any. Without regular treatments any improvements can be reversed and future vision loss can be harder to treat.
Laser surgery and photodynamic therapy can also treat wet AMD but are becoming less commonly used.
Scientists are also making progress in understanding the genetics of AMD and how the disease develops, and exploring promising ways to stop or slow the disease, regenerate new retinal cells, and more.
If you have vision loss from AMD, you should discuss low-vision rehabilitation with your eye care professionals. Coping and vision loss can be scary but there's a lot of help out there and most people can learn to adapt with their remaining peripheral or side vision. A low-vision specialist can make recommendations for changes to your work and living environments.
And low-vision devices may improve your ability to see in function. Family, friends, and counselors can help you stay positive, and support groups can connect to you with others who are going through similar experiences. And a strong team of healthcare professionals, family, and friends can help you make the mot of your remaining vision.
Visit these organizations online for more information.
Macular Degeneration Partnership
Research to Prevent Blindness
National Eye Institute
Foundation Fighting Blindness
For more information visit: www.agingresearch.org/AMD
Brought to you by the Alliance for Aging Research in partnership with BrightFocus Foundation
With support from BrightFocus Foundation and Genentech
Special thanks to Macular Degeneration Partnership and Research to Prevent Blindness