Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of age-related vision loss and affects more than 10 million Americans. It is necessary to have regular, comprehensive dilated eye exams after you reach the age of 50 in order to track the health of your retina, the thin, light-sensitive region at the back of your eye, as well as the all-important macula, a small portion of the retina.
What is AMD?
The macula is a tiny part of the retina, but it is responsible for your central vision. While the entire retina translates light into electric messages that the brain will interpret as sight, the hyper sensitivity of the macula grants the pinpoint accuracy that allows us to accomplish our most delicate of ocular tasks. AMD, as the name implies, is a natural process of aging in which the macula’s sensitivity is compromised. But the severity of the effects of that deterioration vary widely, and it is highly important to visit eye care professionals over time in order to develop a personal history to be used to combat the possibility of future AMD or other age-related eye conditions.
Symptoms of AMD
In people experiencing AMD, the most characteristic and alarming symptom is a loss of central vision. This takes the form of one or more blind spots at or near the center of your field of vision. Living with AMD can be highly disconcerting and disruptive to your lifestyle, but there are various therapeutic options to mitigate the effects of partial vision loss. Before this stage, however, a dilated eye exam will indicate an earlier stage of AMD when several important preventative treatment options can be pursued.
An AMD diagnosis depends upon the detection of drusen deposits beneath the retina. Drusen, eye-specific fatty protein buildup, will naturally occur in many individuals. With an early or intermediate diagnosis of AMD, drusen has begun to accumulate in areas beneath the retina, but will not typically result in any significant vision loss. An intermediate AMD diagnosis, with larger amounts of drusen detected, can be combatted with a dietary regimen that has been supported by two clinical trials, called the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2). The findings of these two studies have concluded that a diet with clinically determined amounts of vitamins C and E, zinc, copper and either beta-carotene or lutein and zeaxanthin will be effective in delaying a diagnosis of late AMD, in which vision loss is a definite risk. Again, regular eye exams will better inform and prepare you for later changes to your vision.
In late AMD, the macula has begun to deteriorate, but it can do so in two distinct ways. In the first, known as dry or non-neovascular AMD, drusen deposits and the aging process thin the macula and damage its light-sensitive cells. Dry AMD is far more common and has a far better prognosis than the second form of late AMD, known as wet or neo-vascular AMD. In this form, the body attempts to combat macular degeneration by creating new blood vessels beneath the retina. This defense tactic, however, goes awry as these vessels will leak blood and fluid and distort your vision. It is essential to track the progression of both dry and wet AMD as both forms can spread from one eye to the other, and dry AMD can progress to wet AMD, which needs to be diagnosed as quickly as possible if treatment is to be effective.
Dry AMD generally results in very gradual vision loss that needs to be monitored carefully and often. An Amsler grid test is the most prevalent way of tracking the progression of dry AMD and is a simple and effective means of determining the health of your central vision. Aside from the dietary supplementation that was concluded in the AREDS tests, there is no definitive treatment for dry AMD. Consistent monitoring with self-administered Amsler tests along with regular eye exams are the most important courses of action. Wet AMD, on the other hand, has a number of important treatment options to combat abnormal blood vessel growth. Injections of anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), photodynamic therapy and laser surgery can all be pursued.
With AMD, as with all eye diseases, the most important factor in any treatment plan is consistency and optimism. AMD will in most cases not be the cause of total vision loss—at the very least you will retain previous levels of peripheral vision. Your eye care professionals are there for you to combat the spread of AMD; use them well.
How to Use This Information
In recognition of Age-Related Macular Degeneration Month, our team at Vision Care Specialists wanted to build awareness of this eye condition. It’s important to have regular eye exams to keep on top of AMD or any other eye conditions you might have. With AMD, as with all eye diseases, the most important factor in any treatment plan is consistency and optimism. AMD will in most cases not be the cause of total vision loss—at the very least you will retain previous levels of peripheral vision. Your eye care professionals are there for you to combat the spread of AMD. Schedule an exam online or give us a call to let us know how we can help.