One of the leading causes of blindness in older Americans is Age-Related Macular Degeneration, also called AMD or simply macular degeneration. This disease is a progressive condition that causes a decrease in central vision due to retinal damage. Because the American population is aging, this condition is becoming more and more common. Here is what to know if you or a loved one is faced with a diagnosis of macular degeneration.
The Basics of Macular Degeneration
In the middle of the retina in the back of the eye, there is a small region called the macula. The macula is the part of the eye that gives us crisp, clear, “20/20” vision. It is responsible for many visual tasks that require fine visual detail and discrimination, such as reading small print, recognizing faces, and even easily identifying colors. When macular degeneration is present, the macula becomes slowly damaged due to several age-related changes that are characteristic of the disease. In early stages of macular degeneration, a retinal waste material known as lipofuscin can begin to deposit in the macula. As the disease progresses, these deposits can lead to extensive tissue damage. Symptoms such as visual distortions and blurred vision may become noticeable. In severe cases of the disease, the central vision may be lost and individuals may have a central blind spot instead.
Stages of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
The early stage of the disease, when lipofuscin is just beginning to deposit in the macular region, is typically referred to as dry macular degeneration. Dry AMD is characterized by areas of retinal deposits and can begin to show areas of general retinal atrophy. In early mild cases of dry AMD, the vision can be variable but is typically still good. Vision can worsen as dry AMD progresses. In very severe cases of dry macular degeneration, the disease can progress to what is known as wet macular degeneration. Wet AMD can occur when the damage that has affected the retinal tissue is so extensive that it causes bleeding underneath the retina. Blood in the wet form of AMD usually results in very decreased vision and leaves the potential for permanent vision loss.
How to Treat AMD
There is no cure for macular degeneration, but several treatment options exist to make living with the condition easier. Some steps that can reduce the risk of developing AMD include eating a diet consisting of leafy greens and colorful vegetables, avoiding smoking tobacco products, and wearing sunglasses while outside. If you have already been diagnosed with AMD, specific eye vitamins are available that can help prevent moderate dry forms of AMD from progressing into the more severe wet forms and can be recommended by your eye doctor. In cases of wet macular degeneration, injections can be used to reduce bleeding and potentially preserve vision.
Macular degeneration can be frustration to visually adjust to, and vision specialists such as Low Vision providers can help with magnification devices and techniques to help maximize visual function in light of vision changes due to AMD.