According to the National Eye Institute, age-related macular degeneration is a widespread eye disease, affecting around 11 million people in the United States. As its name suggests, this disease occurs as the macula, an important structure in the eye, breaks down. This damage can potentially cause irreversible blindness, but fortunately, it can also be slowed or prevented if caught early enough.
In recognition of Low Vision & AMD Awareness Month, this month's blog post will focus on everything you need to know about macular degeneration, including how it happens, how it's treated, and more.
What Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)?
Age-related macular degeneration, also known as AMD, is an eye condition that affects a person's central vision. In particular, this disease affects the macula, the part of the retina that processes sharp, clear, straight-ahead vision.
There are two kinds of AMD: dry macular degeneration and wet macular degeneration. Dry AMD is the far more common of the two and occurs as the macula thins out over time. Because of this, dry AMD develops in three stages: early, intermediate, and late. This progression typically takes place over several years, causes slow vision loss, and can affect just one or both eyes.
Let's go into more detail about the three stages of dry AMD:
- Early dry AMD: In this stage, a person with AMD won't experience any vision loss or other symptoms. However, their eye doctor might notice small yellowish deposits during a dilated eye exam, also known as drusen. If a person is diagnosed with early AMD, they can work to stop the progression of the disease before more damage is done.
- Intermediate dry AMD: Like the early stage, a person with intermediate AMD may not experience symptoms. Some, however, might experience some degree of vision loss. Regardless, they're at an increased risk of developing advanced-stage AMD and will have more and larger drusen than in the early stage.
- Late dry AMD: As the macula continues to thin and the eye struggles more and more to sense light, severe vision loss becomes more likely. This damage is, unfortunately, irreversible.
Wet AMD, on the other hand, typically accelerates faster. In fact, though any stage of dry AMD can turn into wet AMD, wet AMD is always considered to be late-stage. With wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels form on the back of the eye, leak fluid and blood, and damage the macula. These leaking blood vessels can cause rapid vision loss
Why Does AMD Happen?
As the name suggests, age is a factor in the development of AMD, since the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down as a person gets older. Though this leaves the person's peripheral vision intact, it reduces their central vision.
Unfortunately, the exact cause of this eye disease is unknown. Despite this, researchers have been able to identify risk factors in addition to age, like medical and family history, genetics, and smoking. Fortunately, talking to your eye doctor about these risk factors, as well as getting regular eye exams, can help you better manage your risk of developing AMD.
How Is AMD Diagnosed?
There are a few tests your eye doctor can do to diagnose AMD, such as an optical coherence tomography (OCT) scan during an eye exam or an Amsler grid test. Both of these tests let your doctor better examine the condition of your eyes and adjust your diagnosis accordingly.
With an OCT scan, your eye doctor can see detailed images of the macula and retina to tell if any damage has been done, if any drusen are present, or if abnormal blood vessels are forming. An Amsler grid test, on the other hand, is a lower-tech way to detect AMD. You'll look at a grid made of straight lines and note any distortions or missing lines, which can be a sign of AMD.
Where Can I Find Macular Degeneration Treatment?
At Everett & Hurite, we offer our patients with AMD several treatment options. First, an effective way to decelerate the progression of the disease is by making some lifestyle changes that can boost eye health, like quitting smoking, staying active, eating healthy, and wearing sunglasses. Patients may also want to consider taking certain vitamins or using low-vision aids like magnifiers, special glasses, and telescopic lenses.
In addition, we also offer injections of anti-VEGF medications. VEGF is a protein that helps form new blood vessels, and when injected, these medications can help block the production of these proteins, stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels, and slow vision loss.
Though damage by this disease can't be undone, steps can be taken to prevent further vision loss. Moreover, if caught early enough, vision loss can also be slowed or prevented. This makes it especially important to get regular eye exams so that your eye doctor can catch any signs of AMD early.
Our team of expert eye doctors and medical professionals is committed to helping you see clearly and comfortably. If you have a family history of AMD, or if you're simply due for an eye exam, contact us to set up an appointment today. We'll work with you to find the best possible treatment plan and keep your vision healthy for years to come!
Protect your eye health with the help of the experienced team at Everett & Hurite. Use our online scheduling tool to book your next eye exam today!