Aging makes us susceptible to numerous diseases and conditions, all of which affect our overall health and longevity. One such condition is macular degeneration — an eye disease that affects central vision. Age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of blindness in adults over age 50. It impacts more people than cataracts and glaucoma combined.
What is age-related macular degeneration (AMD)?
Macular degeneration is a common eye disease that causes damage to the macula, an area near the center of the retina that is responsible for sharp central vision. The macula controls your ability to focus on fine details. Damage to the macula can impair your ability to read, drive a vehicle, or recognize faces.
In most instances, macular degeneration is slow to progress over time. Vision loss may not occur until years after an initial diagnosis. As the disease progresses, most people experience blurry vision. Advanced stages of macular degeneration can result in a complete loss of central vision. People with this stage of the disease are typically considered legally blind, despite retaining peripheral vision.
Who is at risk for macular degeneration?
Age is the biggest risk factor for macular degeneration. The disease is most likely to develop in adults over age 60, but in some cases, it can develop earlier. Additional risk factors include:
- Genetics / Family history of macular degeneration
- High blood pressure
Types of macular degeneration
- Dry macular degeneration. Dry AMD, the most common type of macular degeneration, occurs as a result of thinning of the macula. This happens naturally, as tissue starts to break down during the aging process. Dry AMD symptoms include blurry vision, visual distortions, sensitivity to light, and difficulty seeing faces.
- Wet macular degeneration. In approximately 10 percent of patients, dry AMD progresses to wet AMD. This type of macular degeneration causes abnormal blood vessels to grow under the retina. The vessels leak blood and fluid, which causes permanent damage to retinal cells. Wet AMD is more likely to result in a sudden change to vision, such as blind spots in your direct line of sight.
Treatment for Macular Degeneration
There is currently no available treatment for the dry form of AMD. Some patients may benefit from taking nutritional supplements and minerals that match the AREDS 2 formula. Research suggests these supplements slow the progression of dry AMD.
Wet AMD can be treated with anti-VEGF medication, which helps to reduce the amount of abnormal blood vessels in the retina and slow the leakage of fluid. Laser therapy can also help destroy abnormal blood vessels and lower the risk of further vision loss.
The best way to reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration is to schedule routine eye exams. A preventative care routine can help detect eye disease early, which ensures you receive prompt treatment to prolong your vision. Talk to your eye doctor to determine how often you need an exam.