February is Low Vision and Age-Related Macular Degeneration Month. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among adults 50 and older, and worse, as many as (opens in a new tab) already suffer from irreversible vision loss by the time they seek treatment. That makes spreading awareness about this disease particularly important, given how many people affected by it don’t know that they have it, causing them to miss out on key preventative care.
What Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
, also known as AMD, is an incurable eye disease that affects the macula, a part of the eye that is small, sensitive, and sits near the center of the retina. Moreover, the macula is the part of the eye that is responsible for creating a sharp, clear central field of vision. However, when the macula is damaged, that central field of vision may appear blurry, distorted, or dark.
There are two kinds of macular degeneration: wet and dry. Wet macular degeneration occurs when abnormal blood vessels form in the back of the eye, damaging the macula; this type tends to cause faster vision loss than its counterpart. Dry macular degeneration, however, is more common, making up 70% to 80% of AMD cases, and occurs as the macula gets thinner with age. Typically, this kind of AMD progresses slowly over a period of several years.
Does AMD Have Symptoms?
AMD presents with different symptoms depending on how advanced the case is. For instance, while early dry AMD typically does not cause any symptoms, intermediate dry AMD can cause mild symptoms, like some blurriness in a person’s central vision or difficulty seeing in low light. Late AMD, however, whether wet or dry, causes more significant vision problems. People with late AMD report developing a blurry or distorted area in their central vision, which often grows. Blank spots may also form in their field of vision, and colors may seem less bright than before.
It’s worth noting that while AMD alone does not lead to total vision loss, it can interfere with a person’s ability to go about their day-to-day activities. As AMD progresses, a person may lose their ability to see faces, drive themselves, read, write, cook, or fix things around the house. While these issues cannot be fixed, if caught early enough, the progression of AMD can be slowed down.
How Is AMD Treated?
Because there is no cure for AMD, treatment is focused on slowing down the progression of the disease and supporting healthy vision. Treatment also depends on what type of AMD a patient has, as well as how advanced their condition is.
Our ophthalmologists work with our patients to help them make lifestyle changes that can help prevent future vision loss. For instance, smoking doubles a person’s risk of developing AMD and also quickens its progression, so it’s always recommended that a patient quit smoking—or never start! On top of that, eating leafy greens, taking vitamins, and wearing sunglasses can also slow the development of AMD, as can maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure.
In addition, patients with wet AMD may be given injections or be treated with laser therapy to destroy the abnormal blood vessels causing the disease.
How Can I Prevent AMD?
For many people, the exact cause of their AMD is unknown, but it most often happens as a person gets older, and it may also be influenced by environmental or genetic factors. For instance, people with a family history of AMD are at a higher risk of developing the disease, as are people with light-colored eyes, and it’s also more common among Caucasians than people of other races.
While nothing can fully prevent AMD, the most important step you can take is getting . Early detection is key to treating AMD and minimizing damage. Plus, annual exams allow your eye doctor a chance to check for not only AMD, but also that would otherwise go unnoticed.