Age-related macular degeneration, often referred to as AMD, is a medical condition that usually affects older adults. This vision-stealing disease is the result of degeneration to the macula. It results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field because of the damage to the retina. It occurs in dry and wet forms and is the leading cause of blindness and visual impairment in adults over the age of 50.
Types of Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration can make it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces, although enough peripheral vision remains to allow other activities of daily life. The dry form of advanced AMD results from atrophy of the retinal pigment epithelial layer below the retina. This causes vision loss due to the damage of photoreceptors, also known as rods and cones, in the central part of the eye.
The wet form of advanced AMD causes vision loss due to abnormal blood vessel growth. This ultimately leads to blood and protein leakage below the macula. Bleeding, leaking, and scarring from these blood vessels eventually causes irreversible damage to the photoreceptors and rapid vision loss if left untreated. Fortunately, only about 10 percent of patients suffering from macular degeneration have the “wet” type.
Macular degeneration is not painful, which may allow it to go unnoticed for some time. For this reason, regular eye examinations are important. While approximately 10 percent of patients age 66 to 74 will have findings of macular degeneration, the prevalence increases to 30 percent for patients age 75 to 85 years of age. Family history may also play a factor. The good news is that regular eye exams, early detection, and new treatment options enable doctors to maintain (and in some cases increase) visual acuity in patients.
AGE-RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION
What is Age-related Macular Degeneration?
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the world’s leading causes of irreversible blindness in the United States.
The disease affects the macula at the back of your eye, which is the part of the retina that lets you see fine detail, like images in front of you, facial features or words on a page. AMD is not painful and can occur in one or both eyes. How quickly the disease progresses varies from person to person, and from eye to eye. When the disease advances rapidly, it may lead to sudden and severe vision loss. AMD can be diagnosed by your eye doctor during a comprehensive eye exam.
Age is the greatest risk factor for AMD and people over 50 are at the greatest risk. Other risk factors include smoking, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, obesity, and family history. Studies show that AMD may be hereditary, and it’s recommended that anyone with a family history of AMD should have their eyes examined.
There are two types of AMD: wet and dry.
What is dry AMD?
About 85-90% of people with AMD have dry AMD. In dry AMD, yellow-colored fatty deposits called “drusen” build up in the cells of the macula. As the size and number of these deposits increase, so does your risk of developing wet AMD.
Symptoms may include blurry vision, such as difficulty seeing sharp details, both up close and from a distance. However, many people with dry AMD have no symptoms at all, or do not notice any of these changes in their vision over time.
Most importantly, dry AMD puts you at an increased risk of progressing to wet AMD, which can cause significant vision loss without treatment. Dry AMD can suddenly change to wet AMD without notice, and you may not notice any changes or decline in your vision. Studies show that catching the progression from dry to wet AMD as soon as possible is critical to prevent irreversible vision loss.
There is currently no cure or treatment for dry AMD but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing wet AMD. These include healthy lifestyle choices, like not smoking, and taking AREDS2 vitamins daily if recommended by your doctor. It’s also important to monitor your eyes with at-home testing between office visits.
There is advanced home monitoring technology available that is sensitive to changes in AMD. The ForeseeHome® AMD Monitoring Program is an easy-to-use early warning system for your eyes that can catch the progression from dry to wet AMD as soon as it happens, which lets your doctor step in sooner and determine the appropriate course of action. People preserved more of their vision when wet AMD was detected using ForeseeHome between office visits, in addition to your doctor’s standard of care. ForeseeHome is FDA-cleared and covered by Medicare.
What is wet AMD?
About 10-15% of people with dry AMD progress to a more advanced form called wet AMD. In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels can suddenly leak fluid in the back of your eye without notice. The disease destroys the sharp, pinpoint vision needed to see clearly, which can cause permanent vision loss if left untreated. Wet AMD is also known as “neovascular” or “exudative” AMD.
When you have wet AMD, your central vision becomes distorted. Symptoms include blurry vision, vision distortion where straight lines look wavy, and a dark spot (or spots) in the center of your vision.
Wet AMD can severely impact quality of life and limit independence. It can make many of the activities you enjoy and rely on impossible; like driving, reading, watching television, and using a computer.
Rapid and severe vision loss can happen very quickly if treatment is delayed. Some people may not notice any changes in their vision until significant vision loss has occurred. Early detection of wet AMD allows your doctor to step in sooner so he or she can determine the best course of action to help preserve your vision.