ACCORDING TO THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF OPHTHALMOLOGY, age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is the leading cause of vision loss in people age 50 and older. This common eye disorder develops when the macula—the part of the retina responsible for clear vision in your direct line of sight—gets damaged, potentially resulting in the loss of central vision in one or both eyes. However, while AMD affects the sharp, central vision that is crucial for activities like reading, driving, and other everyday tasks, it does not typically affect peripheral vision and cause total blindness.
Dry vs. wet AMD
AMD can take one of two main forms—dry or wet. The dry form, which accounts for at least 80 percent of AMD cases, occurs when the macula gets thinner with age and begins to develop protein deposits called “drusen.” Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels develop under the retina and begin to leak blood and other fluids. Though far less common, wet AMD is much more serious as it tends to cause more rapid vision loss than the dry form does. Also, dry AMD can, in some cases, progress to the wet form.
AMD symptoms and diagnosis
AMD can affect one or both eyes and tends to cause no noticeable symptoms in the early stages. Progression (with the dry form) is typically slow and gradual. Because this disease is “silent” early on, routine eye exams to identify any changes in the retina and macula are essential.
Among the numerous tests your ophthalmologist can utilize to help identify AMD is a simple, completely non-invasive visual field test using an Amsler grid—essentially looking at a grid of straight lines with a dot in the center and identifying any sections that appear blurry, distorted, or broken. This test can also be done at home on a routine basis to help detect developing or worsening AMD.
Mayoclinic.org notes that as AMD progresses, people with the condition may experience symptoms such as:
- Visual distortions, such as straight lines seeming bent
- Reduced central vision in one or both eyes
- The need for brighter light when reading or doing close-up work
- Increased difficulty adapting to low light levels, such as when entering a dimly lit restaurant
- Increased blurriness of printed words
- Decreased intensity or brightness of colors
- Difficulty recognizing faces
- A well-defined blurry spot or blind spot in your field of vision.
Simply stated, if you notice any changes in your central vision or your ability to see colors or fine detail, it’s important to see your ophthalmologist for an exam.
AMD risk factors
Though an exact cause of AMD is not known, several risk factors for the disease have been identified. They include advancing age, Caucasian race, obesity, smoking, the presence of cardiovascular disease, and having a family history of AMD.
Treatment and prevention of AMD
Currently, there is no cure for AMD, but doctors do have various treatment options at their disposal to help slow the disease and potentially prevent severe vision loss. Depending on the type and stage of the disease, this might include (among other tools) vitamin supplements, injectable anti-angiogenic medications to prevent the growth of abnormal blood vessels, and/or various forms of laser therapy.
Also, as is the case with so many diseases and chronic conditions, maintaining or adopting better lifestyle habits—e.g., eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking—will go a long way in helping to prevent AMD from worsening or developing in the first place. And, of course, it’s vital to get routine eye exams so your eye doctor can catch AMD or any other developing vision problems early on when they’re most treatable.