February is Macular Degeneration Awareness Month
February is Age Related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month. Did you know as many as 11 million people in the United States have some form of Age Related Macular Degeneration (or AMD). This number is expected to double to nearly 22 million by 2050. How much do you really know about AMD? What are the risk factors involved? Here is our February blog written by Dr. Grove to help us learn more about AMD and how it could affect us.
What is Macular Degeneration?
Age Related Macular Degeneration, or AMD, is a common eye disease that causes damage to something called the macula and is a leading cause of blindness among those who are over 50 years old. The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina in the back of the eye and responsible for providing sharp central vision It is made up of millions of light sensing cells that turn light into electrical signals which are then sent to the brain and translated into the images we see. When this critical part of your retina is damaged, you lose the ability to see fine details in the central part of vision, which may be blurry, distorted or dark.
AMD never leads to complete blindness, but it can cause the inability to clearly see faces or to drive, read, write or other daily activities like cooking.
AMD has three basic stages:
- Early AMD can only be detected through a thorough eye examination and usually does not cause symptoms.
- Intermediate AMD also can only be detected through a thorough eye examination but may cause some minor vision loss which is often not detected by the patient.
- Late AMD is characterized by vision loss from the damage to the macula. There are two types of late AMD. Dry AMD is characterized by a gradual breakdown of the light sensing cells in the macula, causing a gradual worsening of central vision. Wet AMD is characterized by the growth of weak, abnormal blood vessels underneath the retina. These new vessels are prone to breaking and bleeding causing scarring in the retina. The damage in wet AMD is often more rapid and severe than in dry AMD.
AMD has few symptoms in the early stages so it is important to have your eyes examined regularly, especially if you are at risk for AMD.
So what are the risk factors for AMD?
The most important risk fact is age. It is most likely to occur after age 60, but can occur earlier in some cases. Other risk factors are smoking (which doubles the risk), race (it is more common among whites than among other races), and a family history of the disease. You can mitigate these risk factors by stopping smoking, exercising regularly, maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels and eating a healthy diet rich in green leafy vegetables and fish.
How is AMD treated?
Early AMD requires no treatment other than monitoring for progression of the disease.
Intermediate and late AMD are treated in multiple ways. Your eye doctor may recommend certain high-dose vitamins and minerals to try to slow the progression of the disease. Wet AMD can be treated in multiple ways including medication injections, photodynamic therapy and laser surgery.
What if the treatments don’t work and I go blind from AMD?
Remember that AMD never causes complete blindness. But if your vision becomes bad enough that you cannot do normal activities of daily living, you should consult professionals who specialize in maximizing the vision that you do have. Such professionals include eye doctors called low vision specialists, occupational therapists, orientation and mobility specialists, low vision therapists, counselors and social workers.
-James Grove, OD, FAAO – February 2015