Age-Related Macular Degeneration and the Importance of Early Diagnosis
The leading cause of blindness in older adults over the age of 50 is a condition known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It’s estimated that up to 15 million people in North America currently have some form of the condition. AMD occurs when the central portion of the retina, known as the macula, begins to deteriorate. Because the macula controls our central vision, changes to the macula can cause problems with our ability to see in fine details, read, drive, and more.
Dry and Wet AMD
AMD is characterized into two different forms: dry and wet. The vast majority of patients with AMD have the dry form. Dry AMD isn’t as serious as wet AMD and typically leads to vision changes such as blurriness or the need for brighter light. About 10% of dry AMD cases lead to the more serious form of macular degeneration: wet AMD.
In wet AMD, the retina area experiences abnormal blood vessel growth. These abnormal blood vessels leak blood and fluid into the macula, which can compromise the retina’s entire functionality. Wet AMD can eventually lead to permanent vision loss.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for AMD. If you have dry AMD, most of your symptoms can be managed by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Daily habits that can help you manage AMD include:
- Eating foods rich in eye-healthy nutrients, such as vitamin C and A, as well as all the B vitamins
- Wearing sunglasses when outside
- Maintaining a healthy BMI, blood pressure, and cholesterol
- Not smoking
There are a few treatment options available for wet AMD, including photocoagulation surgery, photodynamic therapy, and anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) injections (ex. Avastin, Lucentis, and Eylea). In some extreme cases, wet AMD will continue to make your vision worse over time, leading to permanent blindness.
AMD Risk Factors and Eye Exams
The best thing you can do to protect your eyes against AMD and AMD-related vision loss is to get a diagnosis as early as possible. Part of this is understanding the factors that make it more likely for you to develop macular degeneration. These risk factors include:
- Being over the age of 55
- Being a smoker
- Being obese
- Having high blood pressure or heart disease
- Having a family history of AMD
If any of these risk factors apply to you, it’s important that you have your eyes and retinas checked at least once a year. If you keep up to date with regular eye exams, your doctors will be able to detect AMD before it progresses too far. Early detection is your best defense against AMD-related vision loss.