Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of severe vision loss in older adults. It affects approximately 10 million Americans – more than cataracts and glaucoma combined. With an aging U.S. population, that number is only expected to increase.
AMD occurs when the central portion of the retina, known as the macula, which is responsible for focusing central vision, deteriorates.
In its early stages, Macular Degeneration does not affect vision, but as the disease progresses, people may experience wavy or blurred vision or blurred spots in the center of their vision. If the condition continues to worsen, central vision may be completely lost.
Advanced stages of AMD can affect one’s ability to read, drive a car, watch television, or perform many visual tasks. In fact, those living with AMD are considered legally blind.
There are two types of macular degeneration; dry and wet.
- Dry AMD is an early stage of the disease. Approximately 85% to 90% of AMD cases are the dry type. Dry Macular Degeneration is diagnosed when yellowish spots known as drusen begin to accumulate in and around the macula. It is believed that these spots are deposits or debris from deteriorating tissue. A few small drusen may not cause changes in vision; however, as they grow in size and increase in number, they may lead to a dimming or distortion of vision that people find most noticeable when they read.
- Approximately 10 percent of the cases of dry AMD progresses to the more advanced and damaging form of the disease known as wet AMD. During this phase, new blood vessels grow beneath the retina and leak blood and fluid. This leakage causes permanent damage to light-sensitive retinal cells, resulting in distorted vision including the appearance of wavy lines, as well as blind spots and loss of central vision. These abnormal blood vessels and their bleeding eventually form a scar, leading to permanent loss of central vision.
As the name implies, the biggest risk factor for AMD is age as the disease is most prevalent in those 55 and older. Another known link to AMD is smoking as it is believed to double the risk of developing the disease. AMD is most common in Caucasians and in females. People with a family history of AMD are also believed to be at a higher risk. Hypertension and obesity are also considered risk factors for Macular Degeneration by some, although there is no conclusive research linking these factors.
There is no cure for AMD, but if detected early, there are medical treatment and lifestyle changes that can delay the progression of the disease. Macular degeneration may not present any symptoms in the early stages and it may be unrecognized until it progresses. For this reason, it is important for older adults to monitor their eyesight and visit their eye doctor regularly. Eye care doctors can often detect early signs of Macular Degeneration before symptoms occur. Usually, this is accomplished through a retinal exam.
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