Pop quiz: What's the leading cause of vision loss among older adults in the United States? According to the National Eye Institute, it's age-related macular degeneration.
However, despite how common and damaging this condition is, you might not know very much about it. Here's what you need to know about age-related macular degeneration and how to protect your vision:
What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
is a progressive eye condition that affects your central vision, making it difficult to see clearly. It occurs when the macula, the small central area of the retina responsible for sharp, clear vision, deteriorates. Though people with AMD typically still have their peripheral vision intact, the condition can cause severe vision loss and make it difficult to read, drive, or recognize faces.
There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry macular degeneration is the more common form, and it occurs when fatty deposits build up under the retina. These deposits are called drusen, and they cause the macula to thin and break down over time.
Wet macular degeneration is less common than dry AMD, but it's also more serious. Rather than drusen building up, wet AMD is caused by the formation of abnormal blood vessels growing under the retina. These vessels can leak blood and other fluids, causing further damage to the macula.
Both types of AMD can lead to vision loss, but dry AMD progresses more slowly and is less likely to cause significant vision loss than wet AMD.
How Does AMD Happen?
The exact cause of age-related macular degeneration is unknown, but there are several risk factors that can increase your chances of developing this eye disease. These include:
- Age: As you may have guessed from its name, age-related macular degeneration is most common in adults over the age of 60.
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking has been linked to an increased risk of developing AMD.
- Family history: If you have a family member with AMD, you may be more likely to develop it yourself.
- Race: Caucasians are more likely to develop AMD than other racial groups.
- Eye color: People with light-colored eyes (blue, green, or gray) are at a higher risk for developing AMD.
- Medical conditions: Conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can increase your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.
How Is AMD Diagnosed?
Age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease that develops very slowly over a long period of time. That alone can make spotting symptoms difficult, but to make it even worse, the early stages of dry AMD don't cause any symptoms at all. In fact, even some with intermediate dry AMD won't have any symptoms.
However, advanced-stage AMD symptoms typically include blurry vision, a dark or empty area in the center of your vision and difficulty seeing objects that are straight ahead. In addition, you might notice that colors don't look as bright as they used to, or you might struggle to see in low lighting.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important to see an eye doctor right away. They can perform a comprehensive eye exam to check for signs of AMD and other eye diseases. These tests may include:
- Visual acuity test: This measures how clearly you can see an eye chart from a distance.
- Amsler grid test: This test uses a grid with straight lines that you look at while covering one eye. People with AMD may see wavy or broken lines instead of straight ones.
- Fluorescein angiography: This is a specialized imaging test that can help your doctor detect abnormal blood vessels in your eye.
- Optical coherence tomography: This is another imaging test that can be used to measure the thickness of your macula.
Can I Do Anything To Prevent AMD?
Yes! The best way to prevent this eye disease is by getting a dilated eye exam every one to two years. This will help your eye doctor catch any early signs of AMD so that you can begin treatment right away.
You can also lower your risk of developing AMD by:
- Quitting smoking
- Eating a healthy diet that's rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Controlling conditions like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes
- Wearing sunglasses that block out UV rays
There are many kinds of treatment available for age-related macular degeneration, depending on the type and severity of your condition.
These treatments range from taking nutritional supplements to help slow vision loss and the progression of dry AMD, to anti-VEGF injections given to those with wet AMD to stop the new blood vessels from forming. There are also other options like laser treatment and photodynamic therapy, which both work to shrink and destroy abnormal blood vessels.
Your eye doctor might also suggest the use of low-vision aids, which can help you make the most of your remaining vision. These devices can include magnifiers, special glasses, screen readers, and more.
If you think you may be at risk for macular degeneration or are experiencing symptoms, schedule an appointment with the experts at Everett & Hurite today. We'll work with you to create a treatment plan that's right for you.