Why Family Medicine is ImportantThe National Eye Institute estimates that by 2030, 3.7 million Americans will have advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD). As suggested by the name, age is one of the major risk factors for developing AMD, but your genetics can also influence the likelihood of developing AMD.

Knowing your family health history is an important step in helping you to understand your risk of developing AMD. In this blog post, we'll explore how AMD can be inherited, what information to look for when exploring your family health history, and the importance of understanding your risk.

Understanding Your Family Health History

Your family health history provides a record of the diseases and health conditions present in the people who you share your genes with. This information can help medical professionals identify patterns or trends that might suggest a predisposition to certain health issues. This includes AMD, but it can also include conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Compiling an accurate family health history can take a bit of detective work. Here are some steps to help you gather this information:

  • Speak with Relatives: Start by talking to your immediate family members—parents, siblings, and children. Then reach out to extended, blood-related family members like grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.
  • Ask Specific Questions: Don't just ask if they have any health problems. Be specific. Ask about chronic diseases like AMD, but also ask about conditions like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
  • Look at Patterns: Pay attention to diseases that appear frequently or occur earlier than usual in your family. Also, consider the cause of death for any deceased relatives.
  • Keep a Record: Document all the information you gather. There are various online tools and forms available to help you keep track of this information.
  • Share the Information with Your Doctors: Once you've gathered your family health history, share it with relevant healthcare providers like your PCP or eye doctor. They can help interpret what it means for your health and recommend any necessary preventative actions.

Remember, while you can't change your genes, knowing your family health history can empower you to make lifestyle changes and take other steps to reduce your risk of diseases that run in your family. After all, understanding your medical and family health history isn't about predicting the future—it's about enabling you to take control of your health today.

What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common eye condition that primarily affects individuals aged 50 and older. It affects the macula, or the part of the eye that's responsible for our sharp, central vision. The macula is located in the center of the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye.

AMD is a leading cause of vision loss for older adults, though it doesn't cause complete blindness. Instead, it affects your central vision, making it harder to see fine detail, recognize faces, read small print, drive a car, or do other activities that require good central vision. It can also cause distortion, like straight lines appearing wavy. However, AMD doesn't affect your peripheral vision, which is why it doesn't cause complete blindness.

There are two kinds of AMD:

  • Dry AMD: Dry macular degeneration is the more common of the two types, and happens as the macula gets thinner with age. It typically progresses slowly and over a period of several years.
  • Wet AMD: Wet macular degeneration is rare, but can cause quick and severe vision loss. It occurs when abnormal blood vessels begin to grow in the back of the eye, damaging the macula.

Early dry AMD can be hard to detect since there aren't any noticeable symptoms, which is just one of the many reasons why it's important to get regular eye exams with your Everett & Hurite eye doctor. They can detect early signs of AMD during a comprehensive eye exam and ensure you get timely macular degeneration treatment.

The Link Between Family Health History and AMD

Your risk of AMD increases as you age, with people over the age of 55 most at risk of developing the condition. People who are Caucasian or who smoke are also at a higher risk, as are people with a family history of the disease.

Several studies have identified multiple genes that are associated with an increased risk of AMD. A study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology found that having a first-degree relative greatly increases the risk of AMD, and a study in JAMA Ophthalmology provides evidence for a specific genetic link to AMD.

In other words, if members of your family have been diagnosed with AMD, you may be at greater risk of developing the condition. Don't fret; with this information in hand, you and your eye doctor can create a tailored plan to help reduce your risk.

Strategies for Preventing AMD

If you have a family history of AMD, there are steps you can take to prevent AMD or mitigate its effects. These include:

  • Quit Smoking: Smoking doubles the risk of AMD. If you're a smoker, quitting is one of the most effective steps you can take to protect your eyes.
  • Healthy Diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fish can support eye health. Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and vitamins C and E might help ward off AMD.
  • Regular Exercise: Regular physical activity can improve overall health and may reduce the risk of AMD.
  • Protect Your Eyes from the Sun: Long-term exposure to sunlight can harm your eyes. Wear sunglasses with UV protection and a brimmed hat outdoors.
  • Attend Regular Eye Exams: Early detection and treatment of AMD is key to minimizing its effects. Make sure to schedule regular comprehensive eye exams, even if you don't have any noticeable symptoms.

AMD Treatment from Everett & Hurite

If your eye doctor notices signs of AMD during your exam, they may recommend a test called 'optical coherence tomography,' or OCT, to evaluate the health of your macula. While there is currently no cure for AMD, the team at Everett & Hurite offers several interventions that can slow vision loss and help maintain your quality of life:

  • Medications: For wet AMD, anti-VEGF medications are often used to slow the growth of abnormal blood vessels and stop new blood vessels from forming. These drugs are usually administered via injections into the eye.
  • Laser Treatment and Photodynamic Therapy: These treatments are used to destroy abnormal blood vessels in the eye, slowing the progression of wet AMD.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Making the same lifestyle choices that can help prevent AMD, like eating well and quitting smoking, can also help slow its progression.
  • Low Vision Aids: Devices such as magnifying glasses and screen reading software can help make daily tasks more manageable for those experiencing vision loss due to AMD.

Ultimately, the key to managing macular degeneration lies in early detection. Often, patients don't notice any symptoms until the damage caused by AMD has significantly progressed. Comprehensive eye exams are the most reliable method for patients to confirm their vision isn't unknowingly being affected by this condition.

After all, knowledge is power when it comes to managing your health. If you have a family history of AMD or other eye diseases, talk to your Everett & Hurite eye doctor about the steps you can take to protect your vision. Taking action today can help ensure you maintain the best vision possible, keeping your eyes healthy and your vision sharp for years to come!

If you're concerned about your risk of AMD, the team at Everett & Hurite is here to help. Schedule your appointment online today and get the expert eye care you've been looking for.