AMD 101: What You Need to Know About Age-Related Macular Degeneration
When you think of vision loss, do you first think of glaucoma and cataracts? If so, you may be surprised to learn that Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is actually the leading cause of vision loss for people over the age of 65 in the US.
What exactly is AMD? February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Low Vision Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect opportunity to learn more about the symptoms, what your eye doctor looks for, and if you are at risk for this disease.
How do I know if I could have AMD? – The Symptoms
AMD primarily affects a person’s center, sharp, and color vision. One of the first noticeable symptoms is often decreased night vision. Patients with AMD also often experience trouble reading — their ability to see things clearly directly in front of them decreases. Other symptoms include straight lines looking wavy, dark or blind spots in the center of vision, and changing color vision.
One simple way that patients are tested for AMD is with the Amsler Grid, one eye at a time. When a person with normal vision looks at this grid, they will see it’s straight lines (on the left). When a person’s vision is affected by AMD, the lines in the center of the grid will appear wavy (reconstructed below on the right).
What is Macular Degeneration? – The Disease
There are two types of AMD — “dry” and “wet.” Approximately 80 percent of AMD patients have the less severe form — dry AMD.
Let’s dive into what this means and take a look at how macular degeneration happens.
The retina is the tissue located in the back of the eye that captures light and sends it to your brain for processing. The center of the retina is called the macula, and this is the specific part of the retina that is responsible for sharp, central vision and color vision.
Macular degeneration happens when small, yellow protein build-ups called “drusen” form under the macula. More drusen builds up over time and prevents the macula from getting the proper nutrients it needs — leading to deterioration of the macula and vision loss. Eventually, entire regions of cells in the macula and retina can completely die. This is called geographic atrophy and is an irreversible process.
During your annual eye exam, eyecare providers are able to detect the yellow drusen in your eye. This is important because an early diagnosis is critical to effectively treat AMD.
At any point in the development of dry AMD, the disease can progress to wet AMD, which is more severe. New, abnormal blood vessels in the back of the eye start to form and grow into the retina. These blood vessels are small and weak. They often hemorrhage and leak blood and fluid into the eye. This can cause rapid, irreversible damage to your vision. Progressive vision loss from wet AMD often includes a dark spot in the middle of your vision accompanied by distortion. The graphic below illustrates the progression of eyesight with wet AMD, accompanied by corresponding Amsler Grids.
How do patients manage AMD? – The Treatments
Eyecare providers will often recommend that patients with dry AMD make some lifestyle changes to support their eye health and slow vision loss.
Stop smoking — research shows that smoking can drastically exacerbate eye diseases, including AMD.
Eat a healthy diet — making sure your meals are packed with fruits and vegetables and foods with omega-3 fatty acids can slow progressive vision loss. Read more about a healthy diet to support eye health here.
Many eye doctors will recommend taking eye vitamins designed to improve eye health. Studies support that taking eye vitamins can improve patient outcomes with AMD.
Over the age of 50
Family has a history of AMD
High cholesterol and blood pressure
With all this in mind, it’s important for everyone to take their vision seriously and schedule an annual eye exam.
At Nanodropper, we are committed to eye health education and increasing access to patient care. Learn more about how Nanodropper can improve your eyedrop experience.