Information you need to live a happy, worry-free retirement!
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness among older Americans, but advances in treatments have dramatically changed the course of the disease in the past 10 years.
February is National AMD Awareness Month. AMD is more manageable than ever before because of new treatments, but early detection is a critical first step. Make sure you understand this condition and what you can do now to prevent it or to treat it.
What Is AMD?
The macula is a small spot near the center of the retina, which is the light-sensitive layer of nerve tissue at the back of the eye. The macula is responsible for sharp, central vision. It helps us see objects that are straight ahead, so it is key to helping us read, drive, recognize faces, use a computer or watch television. AMD is a degenerative disease that happens when the macula is damaged or deteriorates.
It is a painless condition that most often occurs after the age of 60. There are two types — dry (non-neovascular) or wet (neovascular). An early stage of the disease, dry AMD may result from the aging and thinning of macular tissues, depositing of pigment in the macula or a combination of the two processes. While wet AMD can be more severe, dry AMD is more common and can progress to a gradual degradation of retinal cells that can lead to severe vision loss.
Wet AMD is caused by abnormal blood vessels that leak fluid or blood into the macula, and it always starts as the dry type.
A Key to Prevention: Routine Eye Exams
The American Academy of Ophthalmology says that because AMD often has no early warning signs, a key to preventing it is to have regular comprehensive medical eye exams by ophthalmologists. The academy recommends that adults with no signs or risk factors for eye disease get a baseline eye disease screening at age 40 — the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to occur. By age 65, the academy recommends getting an exam every one to two years, even in the absence of symptoms or eye problems.
Other steps you can take to help keep your eyes healthy include quitting smoking, eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly. Smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, a diet high in unsaturated fats and simple carbohydrates and a lack of exercise all increase the risk of AMD.
Vitamins to Prevent and Treat
The right vitamins can delay progression of advanced AMD and help people keep their vision longer if they have intermediate AMD or advanced AMD in one eye. The National Eye Institute's Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS and AREDS2) found that taking a specific high-dose formulation of antioxidants and zinc significantly reduces the risk of advanced AMD and its associated vision loss. Talk to your doctor to see if the supplements are right for you.
Injections into the eye of anti-angiogenic agents are successfully being used in arresting or slowing wet AMD.
A Grid to Monitor AMD
If you have AMD, check your vision every day and notify doctors of any changes. Because vision loss is gradual in people with AMD, they often are not aware of the degree to which they’re losing sight. A special tool called the Amsler grid can help in checking eyesight every day. You can find the grid here on the academy’s website.
For more facts and figures on AMD, check out this fact sheet.