Age-related macular degeneration
Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is, in fact, the most common cause of vision loss for people age 50 and older.
Even if you have the condition for a long time, you may not experience any vision loss. For some people, however, AMD progresses at a much faster rate and can quickly lead to central vision loss in one or both eyes.
This is one reason why it’s important to be aware of AMD and to know how to spot its warning signs. Associated with the ageing of the eye, AMD typically causes a blurring of your central vision, and is therefore often noticed due to difficulties in everyday activities like reading, cooking, driving, and recognising faces.
“Macular” means it affects the macula, the part of the eye, located in the centre of the retina, that is responsible for sharp, clear, straight-ahead vision.
Losing part or all of your central vision can make it much harder to live a normal life.
AMD is not all bad news. There are many things you can do to help slow down and manage the condition. But before we get into that, let’s look first at the three common types of AMD:
Dry age-related macular degeneration (dry AMD) is the most common type of the condition, accounting for 90 percent of all cases.
In dry AMD, the cells of the macula (including photoreceptors and retinal pigment epithelium) slowly break down. One result of this is the colour of the macula changes and waste products of the eye build up in the retina, leading to the deterioration and weakening of the retina.
These are the early stages of dry AMD. The condition often doesn’t progress beyond these signs—most people over 50 experience this to some degree without any real issue.
Dry age-related macular degeneration is also called “non-exudative AMD” or “non-neovascular AMD”. This is because it doesn’t involve any fluid leaking from blood vessels, as in other variations of the condition.
Wet age-related macular degeneration accounts for the other 10 percent of all AMD cases.
Caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels on the retina, wet AMD is often the next step in the progression from dry AMD.
These new, abnormal blood vessels, are weak and leak fluid and blood into the macula and retina, causing a distortion of vision and scarring at the back of the eye that can prevent retinal cells from working properly.
Wet age-related macular degeneration is also called “exudative AMD” or “neovascular AMD” because it involves the leakage of fluid and blood from the abnormal blood vessels.
As you can imagine from the name, end-stage AMD is the most advanced form of the condition. In people over 65, it is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness.
As mentioned, some wear and tear of the macula are normal during ageing. In end-stage AMD, however, this normal degeneration has turned into a condition that causes irreversible vision loss.
In end-stage AMD, the macula can reach a point where central vision is lost in both eyes, making it difficult to perform everyday tasks. When AMD gets to this stage, no medications or treatments can help reverse the vision loss and bring back your central sight. You may still have perfectly good side vision or peripheral vision, but it is too low resolution to make up for the lost central vision.
The symptoms of AMD
AMD is checked by eye doctors through a comprehensive dilated eye exam. In the exam, you will be given eye drops to dilate your pupils so the doctor can look into your eyes for AMD and other problems.
If you are over 50 and you notice any of the below symptoms, you may want to mention it to your doctor at your next eye exam:
- Blurred vision
- A dark spot in central vision
- Distortion of straight lines
- Objects appearing the wrong size, shape, or colour
- A blind spot or objects moving or disappearing
- Difficulty in bright sunlight and dim lighting
Preventing and treating AMD
Depending on the type of AMD, there may be various treatment options available.
For instance, early dry AMD is often treated with a healthy diet that is rich in antioxidants to support the cells of the macula. If the condition advances, you may be prescribed certain vitamin and mineral supplements.
There are several medications and laser treatments that have been developed for wet AMD. They each come with their own benefits and limitations, and should be discussed comprehensively with an eye care professional. We currently have various patient studies running at London Vision Clinic to treat AMD, you can find out more here.
On the whole, there are several changes you can make to your lifestyle to help reduce and eliminate factors that contribute toward the development of AMD. These include stop smoking, manage high blood pressure, avoiding excessive exposure to UV rays, increase your intake of antioxidants, and taking into account your personal risk factors such as family history and gender—women are more susceptible to AMD than men.
If you’ve been diagnosed with AMD or believe you may be at risk, talk to your eye doctor about how the condition may affect your vision and what you can do to help retain your vision and keep your eyes healthy.
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