Age-Related Macular Degeneration

What is AMD?
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a degenerative eye condition that causes progressive loss of central vision and is the most common cause of vision loss among people age 50 and older. It gradually destroys the macula, the part of the eye that provides sharp, central vision needed for seeing objects clearly. The impact of developing AMD can be devastating to those who were independent and active prior to the onset of AMD.

Who is at risk?
AMD usually occurs in people who are age 50 and older. Other risk factors include:

  • Smoking. Research shows that smoking doubles the risk of AMD.
  • Race. AMD is more common among Caucasians than among African-Americans or Hispanics/Latinos.
  • Family history. People with a family history of AMD are at higher risk.

What are the symptoms?
People with AMD may first notice a blurring of central vision, especially during tasks such as reading or sewing. Straight lines may appear distorted or warped. AMD gets in the way of reading, driving, identifying faces, watching television, doing fine detailed work, safely navigating stairs and performing other daily tasks. It can make it more difficult to see contrast and can change the way color is seen.

As AMD progresses, blind spots may form within the central visual field. Peripheral vision may not be affected, and it is possible to see “out of the corner of your eye”. The extent of central vision loss varies depending on the type of AMD.

What are the forms of AMD that can cause vision loss?
There are two forms of AMD: dry and wet. Either form can advance and cause severe vision loss.

  • Dry AMD is more common and happens when the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down. As dry AMD progresses, you may see a blurred spot in the center of your vision. Objects may not appear to be as bright as they used to be. You may need more light for reading and doing other tasks. Both eyes can have dry AMD or one eye can be affected first. Dry AMD can turn into wet AMD at any time.
  • Wet AMD is the more advanced and severe form of AMD. It happens when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the macula. These new blood vessels can be fragile and leak blood and fluid. Although loss of central vision can happen quickly, eye doctors can slow down or stop the progression of wet AMD if it is detected before severe vision loss occurs.

What treatments are available for AMD?
There are no medical treatments for dry AMD at this time. Eating healthy, exercising consistently, and visiting your eye doctor yearly are the best ways to battle any eye condition, including AMD. Because AMD doesn’t damage peripheral vision, those who have it are usually able to continue their normal activities with the help of low-vision optical devices or other vision aids.

There are several treatment options and more are being developed for wet AMD: injections, photodynamic therapy and laser surgery. These therapies are aimed at sealing off the leaking blood vessels and/or preventing the blood vessels from growing back. Repeated treatments are necessary, as often as once a month, but doctors are now finding that treatments can be spaced further apart and still be effective. Each eye is different, so your doctor will watch carefully how you respond and will recommend what works best for you.

With early diagnosis and proper treatment, you can delay the progression of wet AMD. The earlier it is detected, the better your chances of keeping your vision. Wet AMD typically results in severe vision loss. However, eye doctors can try different therapies to stop further vision loss.
How is AMD detected?
Those with AMD usually don’t notice it until damage has already occurred, but an eye doctor can detect early signs of AMD in an eye exam. With the eyes dilated, the doctor is able to check the retina for drusen (yellow protein deposits) or unusual growth of blood vessels.

Be sure to make your yearly eye exam appointment so your doctor can check for signs of conditions like AMD and help to prevent damage to your eyes.