Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over age 50 in the United States. This eye disease occurs when there are changes to the macula, a small portion of the retina that is located on the inside back layer of the eye. Macular degeneration can affect your ability to see near or far. AMD causes loss of central vision that can occur in two forms: “dry” or non-exudative and “wet” or exudative.
Risk Factors & Causes
Most people acquire macular degeneration as a part of the body’s natural aging process, but there some factors that can put you more at risk including:
- Family history of macular degeneration
- Smoking (past or present)
- Low macular pigment
- Having light skin or light eyes
- Exposure to the sun
- Poor diet
- Being overweight
- Being a woman, as they normally develop AMD at an earlier age than men
If you also have deposits under the retina called drusen, it generally indicates that you are at greater risk for developing advanced AMD.
To help assess your risk for developing AMD, your optometrist may measure your Macular Pigment Optical Density level (MPOD). This measurement indicates the amount of Lutein, or pigment, in the macula. If this level is low, you are at greater risk for AMD. Healthy Lutein levels can be kept up by taking nutritional supplements, as you will read below.
Symptoms & Diagnosis
In its early stages, you may not notice any signs of macular degeneration. However, if you notice any of these signs/symptoms, you should contact your doctor of optometry immediately.
- Gradual loss of the ability to see objects clearly
- Objects appear distorted in shape and straight lines look wavy
- Loss of clear color vision
- A dark or empty area appears in the center of vision, while peripheral vision remains normal
In a comprehensive eye exam, your optometrist will perform a variety of tests to determine if you have macular degeneration or any other eye health problems
In the more common “dry” form of AMD, the tissue of the macula gradually becomes thin and stops functioning properly. Lines may start to appear blurred and colors may look dim. There is no cure for dry AMD. However, this does not mean you will lose your sight entirely. Fortunately, dry AMD develops slowly and although you may lose some central vision over the years, most people are able to maintain normal, active lives.
Today, many studies have shown there is a link between nutrition and the progression of dry AMD. Dietary changes favoring low-fat content and dark green leafy vegetables can slow vision loss. Although they cannot restore vision that has already been lost to AMD, nutritional supplements containing Lutein and Zeaxanthin have been shown to be beneficial in helping to protect and maintain healthy cells within the macula. Taking these can help minimize the progression of macular degeneration.
Less common “wet” macular degeneration results when fluids leak from newly formed blood vessels under the macula causing blurred central vision. Vision loss may be rapid and severe. Sudden blank or dark spots may appear in your vision. If detected early, the wet form can be treated with injections of intravitreal medications. This is the preferred treatment of The Retinal Insitute. If injections are not successful then other treatments are considered, including laser photocoagulation, where a highly focused beam of light seals the leaking blood vessels that are damaging the macula. Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is another option where a medication is injected into the bloodstream, which is then activated with a laser.