Eye Health Care and Tips

What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) of Eyes?

Last updated on October 20th, 2022 at 07:56 am

Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of severe loss of eyesight among people 50 and older. Only the center of vision is affected by this disease. It is important to realize that people rarely go blind from it. Age-related macular degeneration is also called AMD.

Age-related macular degeneration or AMD affects the central vision, and with it, the ability to see fine details. In AMD, a part of the retina called the macula is damaged. In advanced stages, people lose their ability to drive, to see faces, and to read smaller print. In its early stages, AMD may have no signs or symptoms, so people may not suspect they have it.

2 Types of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

The 2 primary types of age-related macular degeneration have different causes:

  1. Dry age-related macular degeneration: This type is the most common. 80% of those with AMD have the dry form. Its exact cause is unknown, although both genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a role. This happens as the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down one eye at a time. Losing vision in this condition is usually gradual. It is believed that the age-related damage of an important support membrane under the retina contributes to dry age-related macular degeneration.
  2. Wet age-related macular degeneration: Though this type is less common, it usually leads to more severe vision loss in patients than dry AMD. It is the most common cause of severe loss of vision. Wet age-related macular degeneration happens when abnormal blood vessels grow beneath the retina. They leak fluid and blood, hence the name wet AMD, and can create a large blind spot in the center of the visual field.

What causes Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

While it’s not entirely clear what causes macular degeneration in one person instead of another, doctors have zeroed in on key risk factors that increase someone’s likelihood for the disease. People with certain genes or a direct relative who has AMD are more likely to get the disease. There’s a heightened risk of AMD in people age 60 and up. Making healthy lifestyle decisions can help ward off the disease and promote overall eye health.

Risk Factors for Age-Related Macular Degeneration

There are several risk factors that can contribute to developing age-related macular degeneration, including:

  • Being 50 and older
  • Eating a diet high in saturated fat
  • Smoking

Age-Related Macular Degeneration Symptoms

The following are the most common symptoms of age-related macular degeneration. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Common symptoms of AMD may include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty recognizing familiar faces
  • Straight lines appear wavy
  • A dark, empty area or blind spot appears in the center of vision
  • Loss of central vision, which is necessary for driving, reading, recognizing faces and performing close-up work

The presence of drusen, which is tiny yellow deposits in the retina, is one of the most common early signs of age-related macular degeneration. It may mean the eye is at risk for developing more severe age-related macular degeneration. These will be visible to your doctor during an eye exam. The symptoms of age-related macular degeneration may look like other eye conditions.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration Diagnosis

Besides a complete medical history and eye exam, your eye doctor may do the following tests to diagnose age-related macular degeneration:

  • Visual acuity test. This common eye chart test measures vision ability at various distances.
  • Pupil dilation. The pupil is widened with eyedrops to allow a close-up examination of the eye’s retina.
  • Fluorescein angiography. Used to detect wet age-related macular degeneration, this diagnostic test involves a special dye injected into a vein in the arm. Pictures are then taken as the dye passes through the blood vessels in the retina, helping the doctor evaluate if the blood vessels are leaking and whether the leaking can be treated.
  • Amsler grid. Used to detect wet age-related macular degeneration, this test uses a checker-board-like grid to determine if the straight lines in the pattern appear wavy or missing to the patient. Both indications may signal the possibility of age-related macular degeneration.

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Complications of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration can cause severe loss of central vision but rarely causes blindness. It can, however, make it difficult to read, drive or perform other daily activities that require fine central vision. In AMD, the health of the peripheral retina is unaffected, so patients can see their peripheral (side) vision, and their ability to walk around without bumping into things, is usually preserved.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration Treatment

Specific treatment for age-related macular degeneration will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health and medical history
  • Extent and nature of the disease
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or low-vision therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

Currently, there is no treatment for dry age-related macular degeneration, though vision rehabilitation programs and low-vision devices can build visual skills, develop new ways to perform daily living activities and adjust to living with age-related macular degeneration.

The primary treatment for wet AMD is the injection of medications called anti-VEGF agents. VEGF stands for the vascular endothelial growth factor. A high level of VEGF in the eye is linked to the formation of the abnormal blood vessels that cause much of the damage in wet AMD. Anti-VEGF agents are used to combat the disease process and reduce the damaging effects of these leaky abnormal blood vessels. They are also able to effectively stabilize vision in many patients.

In some patients, anti-VEGF injections actually improve the level of visual acuity. Anti-VEGF medications are administered by injecting them directly into the affected eye. Although this sounds daunting, the procedure is done with a very fine needle and under the cover of numbing (anesthetic) eyedrops, so patients are usually very comfortable. Anti-VEGF treatment is usually administered regularly over time, requiring multiple injections to maintain the treatment effect, and your retinal physician will discuss the best treatment. In selected patients, other treatments, such as laser therapy, can be used.

8 Tips to Avoid Age-Related Macular Degeneration Treatment

Lowering your risk of macular degeneration requires making healthy decisions throughout your life. However, there are some things you can do on your next vacation to help prevent macular degeneration:

  1. Wear sunglasses. Whether it causes macular degeneration, aging of the skin or cancer, sun exposure is a cumulative thing over a long period and needs to be limited. Look for sunglasses that offer protection from both UVA and UVB rays, and be sure to wear them when you are outdoors.
  2. Wear a wide-brimmed hat. Wearing a broad-brimmed hat can be beneficial at keeping some sunlight out of your eyes. It also has the added advantage of shading your skin from damaging UV rays.
  3. Don’t smoke. People who occasionally smoke at home may be tempted to light up a cigarette when they’re on spring break. But if you’re trying to take care of your eyes and your overall health, resist the urge to smoke.
  4. Eat a nutritious diet. A healthy diet rich in antioxidants can support the eye. Eat leafy vegetables high in lutein, like spinach.
  5. Keep up with your medication. If you take medication to manage your blood pressure or cholesterol levels, don’t forget to pack it in your suitcase. Managing heart conditions can help reduce your risk of macular degeneration.
  6. Exercise. Incorporate some physical activities in your spring break itinerary. It can help keep your weight at a healthy level, which subsequently helps maintain normal blood pressure and reduces the risk of macular degeneration.
  7. Regular eye test. A vision test can help you check for signs of macular degeneration. If you notice your vision becomes darker or blurry vision, make an appointment with your eye doctor to get it checked out.
  8. Limit screen time. Limiting screen time over mobile phone, laptops and television will extensively help to avoid macular degeneration.

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