Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease caused by damage or breakdown of the macula, the small part of the eye’s retina that is responsible for our central vision. This condition affects both distance and close vision and can make some activities like threading a needle or reading very difficult or impossible.
The disease is diagnosed as either wet or dry. Wet macular degeneration accounts for about 10 percent of all cases. It results when aging of the retina is compounded by growth of abnormal blood vessels underneath the macula. These vessels leak fluid and/or blood that blur central vision. Visual loss may be rapid and severe with significant distortion as a result of dense scar tissue formation. The wet form of the disease usually leads to more serious vision loss. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of severe vision loss in Caucasians beyond the age of 65.
Despite ongoing research, there is no cure yet for dry macular degeneration. Some doctors believe that nutritional supplements may slow the degenerative process. Treatment focuses on helping the patient find ways to cope with visual impairment. In its early stages, wet macular degeneration can be treated with laser surgery, a brief and usually painless outpatient procedure.
Laser surgery uses a highly focused beam of light to seal the leaking blood vessels that damage the macula. Although a blind spot is left at the point of laser contact, the procedure can preserve more sight overall. Despite advanced medical treatment, people with AMD still experience some visual loss. A wide range of low-vision devices, support services and rehabilitation programs are also available to help patients maintain a satisfying lifestyle. There now newer drug treatments for the wet form of the disease that include the injection of agents that slow down or stop the growth of new blood vessels are part of the disease process.
Macular Degeneration FAQs
How prevalent is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration, often called AMD or ARMD (for age-related macular degeneration), is the leading cause of blindness in the world. The eye-health organization Prevent Blindness America estimates that 13 million Americans have evidence of AMD.
What are the disease’s initial symptoms?
Macular degeneration can produce a slow or sudden painless loss of vision. If straight lines look wavy to you, your vision seems fuzzy or there are shadowy areas in your central vision, you may be experiencing early signs of AMD.
What causes the disease?
The exact cause of age-related macular degeneration is still unknown. The dry form of AMD may result from the aging and thinning of macular tissues, depositing of pigment in the macula or a combination of both. With wet ARMD, new blood vessels grow beneath the retina and leak blood and fluid. This leakage causes retinal cells to die and creates blind spots in central vision.
Who’s most at risk for acquiring macular degeneration?
Factors that place you at a higher risk for AMD include having a family member with the disease, smoking, high blood pressure, farsightedness and obesity. Whites and females tend to get the AMD more that their counterparts.