If asked to name the most common cause of vision problems in America, the average citizen is likely to name cataracts, or near- or farsightedness, as the culprit. However, the true leading cause of vision issues is a condition known as Age-Related Macular Degeneration, or AMD. AMD currently affects as many as 15 million Americans - and is likely to affect many more in the coming years as the country’s older populations continue to grow. Considering that this issue impacts more Americans than cataracts and glaucoma combined, macular degeneration is definitely one eye problem that we want all of our patients to be aware of.
About Age-Related Macular Degeneration
AMD is the leading cause of vision issues in patients aged 60 and older. As AMD develops, the condition begins damaging the macula - a term used to refer to a small spot that sits near the center of the retina. The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina. It’s responsible for helping to create a sharp, clear central field of vision. When the macula is damaged, the center of your field of view may appear blurry, distorted, or dark - resulting in progressive vision loss.
Causes Of And Risk Factors For Age-Related Macular Degeneration
As the name suggests, age is a major risk factor for AMD. The disease is most likely to occur after age 60 - but it can also occur earlier.
Other risk factors for AMD include:
- Smoking. Smoking doubles the risk of AMD.
- Race. AMD is more common among Caucasians than among African-Americans or Hispanics/Latinos.
- Family History. People with a family history of AMD are at higher risk.
- Genetics. As many as 20 genes may affect one’s risk of developing AMD; more may be discovered as researchers continue to investigate this condition.
Effects And Symptoms Of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Patients suffering from AMD typically report developing distorted or blurry vision, particularly in the line of sight that sits straight ahead of them. As the disease progresses, the blurry or distorted area may grow in size, and patients are even likely to develop blank spots in their field of vision. Many patients also report that objects in their line of sight appear darker and lose their brightness or “shine” as the disease progresses.
AMD by itself does not lead to complete blindness. However, it can definitely prevent patients from being able to carry out simple everyday activities safely and/or efficiently. As AMD progresses patients are likely to lose the ability to see faces, drive, read, write, cook or fix things around the house - just to name a few tasks AMD can interfere with.
Preventing & Addressing Age-Related Macular Degeneration
At this point in time, no set action plan can fully prevent AMD. Some experts believe that living a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise times and a balanced, nutrient-filled diet (i.e. filled with fruits, leafy green vegetables, fish, and other healthy foods) can reduce the risk of AMD and/or slow its progression. Smokers are also advised to ditch the habit if possible.
AMD is considered incurable once it begins to develop. However, patients with the condition can be treated with injections of medications, can take certain vitamins, and can use vision aids to help treat its symptoms.
The #1 weapon against AMD at this point in time is early detection. In many cases patients do not experience symptoms until any damage related to AMD is quite severe. Annual complete eye exams are the best way for patients to ensure their vision is not being damaged without their knowledge.