Macular degeneration, commonly referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is the largest cause of vision loss in the developed world and affects more than 10 million Americans. It usually affects people over the age of 60, but can affect those who are younger. Macular degeneration is a painless condition that usually affects both eyes and causes loss of central vision. It does not affect the peripheral vision, meaning that it does not cause total blindness.
The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina. It is responsible for our central vision and allows us to see fine details with clarity.
Wet AMD is one variety of the condition in which abnormal blood vessels grow into the macula, leaking blood or fluid. This can cause scarring and a rapid loss of central vision if it is not treated quickly. Wet AMD can develop suddenly and rapid referral to a specialist for treatment is essential.
Dry AMD is the most common variety of age-related macular degeneration. It causes a gradual deterioration of the retina as the cells die off over time and are not regenerated. Up to 15% of people with dry AMD go on to develop wet AMD, and so any sudden changes in your vision should be followed up with your optometrist as soon as possible. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for dry macular degeneration at this time.
Macular degeneration affects each person differently, which means that it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose, particularly as you may not notice any change in your vision early on in the condition. However, as the cells deteriorate, you will start to see an increasing range of symptoms, including:
Distortion or bends in what should be straight lines (such as lampposts or door frames)
Dark spots in your central vision
Difficulty adapting from dark to light environments or vice versa
Objects may appear to change shape, size or color, or may move or disappear
Bright lights may be difficult to tolerate
Words may disappear while you are reading
Unfortunately, there is no clear reason as to what triggers the process that causes macular degeneration. However, you are at an increased risk if you have a family history of the condition, or if you are over 60.
Experts suggest that the best thing you can do to minimize any potential risk is to ensure that you live a healthy, active lifestyle. You can do this by:
Eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables
Moderating your alcohol consumption
Maintaining a healthy weight
Getting regular exercise
There is also some limited research that suggests that eating leafy, green vegetables can slow the deterioration of vision in cases of dry AMD.
Sadly, there is currently no cure for either variety of AMD. In the case of dry AMD, nutritional supplements can help slow the progression of the disease. Other treatments suggested are tailored to aiding the patient to make the most of their remaining vision. This can include special glasses or low vision devices such as a magnifying glass to help with reading.
Wet AMD can be treated with anti-vascular endothelial growth factor medication. This can stop additional blood vessels from developing and keep your vision from deteriorating further.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding macular degeneration, we highly recommend that you speak with your optometrist who will be happy to assist you.