As a disease usually associated with aging, macular degeneration is also called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), though there are other, less common types of macular degeneration.
Macular Degeneration Statistics
Special thanks to the EyeGlass Guide, for informational material that aided in the creation of this website.
Macular degeneration (also called AMD or age-related macular degeneration) is an age-related condition in which the most sensitive part of the retina, called the macula, starts to break down and lose its ability to create clear visual images. The macula is responsible for central vision – the part of our sight we use to read, drive and recognize faces. So although a person’s peripheral vision is left unaffected by AMD, the most important aspect of vision is lost.
Forms of Macular Degeneration
There are two forms of macular degeneration, dry (non-neovascular) or wet (neovascular). The term neovascular refers to the growth of new blood vessels.
Dry AMD (non-neovascular)
Dry AMD is the most common form of the disease, making up about 85%-90% of all cases of AMD. It is characterized by blurred central vision or blind spots, as the macula begins to deteriorate. Dry AMD is an early stage of the disease and is less severe than the wet form,.
Dry AMD occurs when the aging tissues of the macula begin to thin out and break down. Tiny pieces of white or yellowish protein called drusen begin to appear, which are thought to be deposits from the macular tissue as it deteriorates. The appearance of these drusen are often what leads to a diagnosis of AMD during an eye exam.
With dry AMD vision loss happens gradually, however, the dry form can progress to wet AMD rapidly. There is currently no cure for dry AMD, however there is research that shows that some people can benefit from supplemental vitamin therapy including antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Wet AMD (neovascular)
Wet AMD is less common occurring in only about 10 percent of those with AMD. AMD is classified as Wet AMD when abnormal blood vessels begin to grow under the retina and leak fluid and blood into the macula, resulting in blind spots and a loss of central vision. Wet AMD can cause more damage to vision and permanent scarring if not treated quickly, so any sudden blur in vision should be assessed immediately, especially if one is aware that they have AMD. Usually vision loss happens faster and is more noticeable than in dry AMD so the quicker it is treated, the more vision you can preserve.
Symptoms & Risk Factors of Macular Degeneration
Macular Degeneration can cause low vision and debilitating vision loss, even blindness if not diagnosed and treated in the early stages. Because the disease often has no obvious symptoms early on, it is critical to have regular comprehensive eye exams, particularly if you are at risk.
Symptoms of AMD
Macular degeneration is a disease in which the macula slowly breaks down, resulting in a gradual progressive vision loss, at least in its’ early stages. Frequently there are no symptoms and the disease is only diagnosed when a doctor detects signs such as a thinning macula or the presence of drusen in a comprehensive eye examination. Early vision loss can include blurry, cloudy or distorted central vision or dark spots in your central field of view. With advanced stages, vision loss can be severe and sudden with larger blind spots and total loss of central vision.
Risk Factors for Macular Degeneration
Age is the most prominent risk factor for AMD, as the disease is most common in individuals over the age of 60 (although it can happen in younger individuals as well). Other risk factors can increase your chances of developing the disease such as:
- Genetics and Family History: Research shows that there are actually almost 20 genes that have been linked to AMD, and they suspect that there are many more genetic factors to be discovered. Family history greatly increases your chances of developing AMD.
- Race: Caucasians are more likely to get AMD than Hispanics or African-Americans.
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking can double your likelihood of developing AMD.
- Lifestyle: Research shows that UV exposure, poor nutrition, high blood pressure, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle can also be contributing factors.
- Gender: Females have a higher incidence of AMD than males.
- Medications: Certain medications may increase the chances of developing AMD.
To reduce your risks of developing AMD it is recommended to make healthy choices such as:
- Regular eye exams; once a year especially if you are 50 or over.
- Stop smoking.
- Know your family history and inform your eye doctor.
- Proper nutrition and regular exercise: Research indicates that a healthy diet rich in “Eyefoods” with key nutrients for the eyes such as orange peppers, kale and spinach as well as regular exercise may reduce your risks or slow the progression of AMD.
- Maintain healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
- Dietary supplements: Studies by the National Eye Institute called AREDs and ARED2 indicated that a high dosage of supplements of zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E and lutein may slow the progression of advanced dry AMD (it is not recommended for those without AMD or early AMD). Speak to a doctor before taking these supplements because there may be associated risks involved.
- Wear 99% -100% UV-blocking sunglasses.
The first step to eye health is awareness. By knowing your risk, taking preventative measures and visiting your eye doctor on a regular basis, you can greatly reduce your chances of facing this debilitating disease.
Treatment of Macular Degeneration
There are no FDA-approved treatments for dry macular degeneration, although nutritional intervention may be valuable in preventing its progression to the more advanced, wet form.
For wet macular degeneration, there are several FDA-approved drugs aimed at stopping abnormal blood vessel growth and vision loss from the disease. In some cases, laser treatment of the retina may be recommended. Ask your eye doctor for details about the latest treatment options for wet macular degeneration.
Testing and low vision devices
Although much progress has been made recently in macular degeneration treatment research, complete recovery of vision loss is probably is unlikely. Your eye doctor may ask you to check your vision regularly with an Amsler grid – a small chart of thin black lines arranged in a grid pattern. Macular degeneration causes the line on the grid to appear wavy, distorted or broken. Viewing the Amsler grid separately with each eye helps you monitor your vision loss.
If you have already suffered vision loss from macular degeneration, low vision devices including high magnification reading glasses and hand-held telescopes may help you achieve better vision than regular prescription eyewear.