The eye is one of the most sensitive organs in the human body and is constantly exposed to internal and external risk factors. Over time, this exposure can result in conditions ranging from glaucoma to cataracts, disorders that begin to manifest symptoms as a patient ages. While not as well known as other eye issues, age-related macular degeneration (or AMD) is the most common cause of vision loss for those over 60. According to the National Eye Institute, as many as 15 million Americans currently struggle with AMD.
What Is It?
Although the exact cause is not known, macular degeneration – as the name suggests – develops and progresses as the eye ages. The disease affects the macula, the area in the center of the retina, and therefore results in a decline in central vision. Trouble reading, hazy vision, and needing extra light to see are the most common symptoms. As such, it becomes much harder for sufferers to perform many everyday tasks. While side vision is often left unaffected, overall eye health can be compromised in time, with the most serious cases resulting in blindness.
There are two types of AMD, “dry” and “wet”, named and characterized by the manner in which each affects vision and overall eye health. The dry type is far more common, striking around 90 percent of people with macular degeneration. As you age, the tissue in your macula thins and is more susceptible to the buildup of lipid deposits known as drusen. As these deposits increase they can cause visual distortion and have a “dimming” effect on your low-light and color vision.
“Wet” AMD, while much more rare, is also more aggressive. It is characterized by the abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eye, and sudden vision loss can result as these vessels leak blood and other fluid under the macula.
When discussing the risk factors of AMD as well as many other eye disorders, our mantra is “Healthy Eyes Are A Part of A Healthy Body”. You may be more susceptible to AMD if you smoke, are obese, or have a family history of the disease. Maintaining a healthy diet and protecting your eyes from damaging light – including invisible UV as well as the visible blue light emitted by digital devices – are effective ways to manage your risk.
Although there is currently no cure for macular degeneration, there are treatment options that may slow the progression of the disease. Certain supplements and vitamins, such as zinc, vitamins C and E, and lutein may slow the beginning stages of AMD. In all cases, early detection is key. Annual eye exams and the use of high-tech diagnostic equipment such as Optomap Retinal Imaging give us the best chance of identifying and managing a whole host of ocular and systemic diseases and disorders.