February Awareness: Understanding Macular Degeneration’s Impact

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), often referred to as Macular degeneration, is a chronic eye condition that primarily affects older adults. It involves the deterioration of the macula, a small but crucial area near the center of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision. The macula allows us to see fine details clearly and perform tasks such as reading, driving, and recognizing faces.

Types of macular degeneration:

  1. Dry AMD (Non-neovascular AMD): This is the more common form, accounting for about 85-90% of cases. Dry AMD occurs when the light-sensitive cells in the macula gradually break down and thin out, leading to gradual central vision loss. In the early stages, many people have no symptoms at all. People who do experience symptoms may notice blurred or distorted central vision, or difficulty seeing in dim light. During an eye exam, your optometrist may notice the appearance of drusen (small yellow deposits) in the retina. 
  2. Wet AMD (Neovascular AMD): Wet AMD, a more aggressive form of macular degeneration, is characterized by the growth of abnormal blood vessels beneath the macula, leading to rapid and severe central vision loss. Timely intervention is crucial, with treatments focused on injections of specialized medications to halt disease progression. Optometrists play a key role in early detection and referral, recognizing symptoms, and ensuring patients receive prompt access to necessary care. Their proactive approach is vital in preserving vision and enhancing the quality of life for those affected by wet AMD.

How does AMD affect your vision?

The most common initial symptom is slightly blurred central vision when performing tasks that require seeing detail. Glasses cannot correct this blurred spot or sense that there is an obstruction in the way of clear vision. Over time, the blurred area may increase in size and interfere with reading and recognizing faces.

Other symptoms of AMD can cause straight lines to look wavy or distorted, and dark spots may blank out portions of the central vision. Patients experience no pain with AMD and there are no signs that can be seen by a casual observer.

Can macular degeneration be prevented?

Smoking and being exposed to secondhand smoke increases the risk for AMD. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with exercise and eating green leafy vegetables and multi-colored fruits and vegetables, combined with keeping your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol all under control helps to lower your risk for AMD.

Can you stop macular degeneration from progressing?

In the earliest stages, macular degeneration is entirely symptom-free but can be detected during routine eye health examinations. For now, there’s no way to reverse damage from macular degeneration. However, early detection and counseling by an Optometrist can help slow its progression. The lifestyle changes mentioned above may help prevent the dry form of the disease from progressing to the more dangerous wet form. Depending on your diet, your optometrist may make specific recommendations on nutritional supplements to help slow the progression of dry AMD.

Your optometrist may also have you monitor your dry AMD at home by looking at a grid like this Amsler Grid for the earliest changes to straight lines. Changes to the appearance of this grid could be the first sign that your dry AMD is progressing to the wet form and you should call your optometrist immediately. A timely referral by your optometrist to an eye surgeon at this stage can get you effective treatments with medications that can slow the progression of wet AMD.

Check for progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration using the Amsler Grid:

If you have a family history or risk factors for AMD, be sure to book your routine eye examinations with your optometrist.

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