Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a problem with the film of your eye called the retina. It happens when the central part of the retina called the macula is damaged.
With AMD patients loose their central vision. It is hard to see fine details, whether one is looking at something close or far. But the peripheral (side) vision will still be normal. For instance, imagine you are looking at a clock with hands. With AMD, you might see the clock’s numbers but not the hands.
AMD is very common. It is a leading cause of vision loss in people 50 years or older.
Two types of AMD
This form is quite common. About 80% (8 out of 10) of people who have AMD have the dry form. Dry AMD is when the nurse layer below the retina is unable to recycle waste particles with age and tiny clumps of protein called drusen collect. This process slowly thins out the central retina and causes loss of central vision. There is no way to treat dry AMD yet.
This form is less common but much more serious. Wet AMD is when new, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina. These vessels may leak blood or other fluids, causing scarring of the macula. Patients loose vision faster with wet AMD than with dry AMD.
Many people don’t realize they have AMD until their vision is very blurry. This is why it is important to have regular visits to an ophthalmologist to look for early signs of AMD before vision problems develop.
Who Is at risk for AMD?
You are more likely to develop AMD if you:
- have a family history of AMD
- smoke cigarettes
- are white
- eat a diet high in saturated fat (found in foods like meat, butter, and cheese)
- are overweight
- have hypertension (high blood pressure)
- are over 50 years old
Having heart disease is another risk factor for AMD, as is having high cholesterol levels.
How is Age-Related Macular Degeneration Diagnosed?
During an eye exam, your ophthalmologist will put dilating eye drops in your eye to widen your pupil. This allows your doctor to use a special lens to look inside your eye and spot any changes in the retina and macula.
An Optical coherence tomography (OCT) image will be taken. This technology is analogous to a MRI scan of the retina and provides very detailed images to detect any drusen deposits and fluid accumulation.
How can I prevent Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
Dry AMD treatment
Right now, there is no way to treat the dry form of AMD. However certain people with lots of drusen or vision loss from thinning of the retina might benefit from taking a certain combination of nutritional supplements. A large study (AREDS 2 study) found those people may slow their dry AMD by taking these vitamins and minerals daily:
- Vitamin C (500 mg)
- Vitamin E (400 IU)
- Lutein (10 mg)
- Zeaxanthin (2 mg)
- Zinc (80 mg)
- Copper (2 mg)
Your ophthalmologist can tell you if vitamins and minerals are recommended for your dry AMD, as not all forms will benefit from the AREDS supplements. Beta carotene should not be used by smokers as it raised the risk of lung cancer.
Eye healthy foods
Dark leafy greens, yellow fruits and vegetables, fish, and a balanced, nutrient-rich diet have been shown beneficial for people with AMD.
Wet AMD treatment
Early detection and treatment is can help slow or stop further loss of sight. It is recommended to use an Amsler grid every day to monitor your vision. One is below for you to use.
Here is how to use the Amsler grid:
- Keep the Amsler grid in a place where you see it every day. Many people keep an Amsler grid on their refrigerator door or on their bathroom mirror.
- In good light, look at the grid from about 12–15 inches away. Be sure to wear your reading glasses if you normally use them.
- Cover one eye. Look directly at the dot in the center of the grid with your uncovered eye. Notice if any of the lines look bent or wavy. See if any part of the grid looks blurry, dim, or out of shape.
- Now cover your other eye and test your vision this same way again.
Call your ophthalmologist right away if you notice that any lines or parts of the grid look wavy, blurry, or dim.
To help treat wet AMD, there are medications called anti-VEGF drugs. This medicine is delivered to your eye through a very slender needle.Anti-VEGF treatment helps reduce the number of abnormal blood vessels in your retina. It also slows any leaking from blood vessels. Talk to your ophthalmologist about your options.
I have suffered vision loss from ARMD. How can I make the most of my vision?
If you have AMD, you can learn how to make the most of your vision. Often you can still do many of your favourite things with special low vision tools. These can include different kinds of magnifying tools, handheld computers, electronic items and more.
Also, you can learn how to use your side vision to help you do things. A vision rehabilitation specialist can teach you how this works. They also can help you find many low vision support services and tools.
Ask your ophthalmologist to help you find a vision rehabilitation specialist in your area. The goal is to learn new ways to be as independent as possible.