Macular degeneration, commonly referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is a disorder that affects the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue lining the inside of the eye. Within the retina, the area responsible for sharp central vision (called the macula) deteriorates, causing blurred vision. This can cause a blind spot in the central area of vision.
Macular degeneration is the single largest cause of sight loss in the developed world. It affects more than 10 million Americans. Macular degeneration most commonly strikes people over the age of 60, but it can also affect those who are younger. It is a painless condition that usually affects both eyes with sight loss in the central area of vision. As AMD does not affect peripheral vision, it does not cause total blindness.
Wet AMD causes rapid and severe vision loss due to abnormal blood vessels which develop under the macula. As the blood vessels grow into the macula, they leak blood or fluid and cause scarring and a rapid loss of central vision. Wet AMD can develop suddenly, and rapid referral to a specialist is essential as it can be treated if caught quickly.
Dry AMD is the most common variety of age-related macular degeneration. It is 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, so any sudden changes in your vision should be followed up with your optometrist as soon as possible.
Macular degeneration affects each person differently, which means that it can sometimes be challenging 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
Objects may appear to change shape, size, or color, or they 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 are over 60.
Experts suggest that the best thing you can do to minimize potential risks is to ensure 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, the treatments are intended to aid the patient in making the most of their remaining vision. This can include things such as using magnifying glasses to help with reading.
Wet AMD can be treated with anti-vascular endothelial growth factor medication. This treatment stops additional blood vessels from developing and prevents the patient's vision from deteriorating further.
Occasionally, laser therapy is suggested as a possible treatment for destroying abnormal blood cells, but this is only suitable for cases of wet AMD, and usually only around 1 in 7 sufferers may be potential candidates for this procedure.
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.