Taking a Closer Look at Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Age-related macular degeneration–also called
AMD–is a leading cause of vision loss in older Americans. This eye disease damages the macula–a small
region in the center of the eye’s light-sensing tissue, called the retina. The macula contains millions of cells that
give us sharp, central, and color vision. The vision that we use to read, write, watch
TV, drive, and do other everyday tasks. Because AMD is a progressive disease, it may
worsen with time. However, it advances differently from person
to person, and even from eye to eye. Some people go for years without noticeable
symptoms, while others experience rapid vision loss. Eye care professionals can detect AMD, and
monitor its progress with a dilated eye exam. Special eye drops widen, or dilate, pupils,
and magnifying equipment gives a better view of the retina. This can reveal any changes such as a build-up
of drusen, the small, yellowish deposits that form beneath the macula, and can indicate
AMD. In the early stage of AMD, vision is rarely
affected, although some people may have difficulty reading in low light, or seeing small electronic
screens. In the intermediate stage, most people still
don’t have significant symptoms, although some may need more light or magnification
to read or see fine details. In the late stage, most people will have some
vision loss. The person may notice a blurred spot developing
in the center of their vision, which can grow and darken over time. Straight lines may start to look wavy, and
objects may appear to change shape, or move. Color vision and the ability to see contrast
in shading, can also decline. There are two types of late-stage AMD. In dry AMD, the macula gradually breaks down. In wet AMD, abnormal and fragile blood vessels
grow underneath the macula, leak, and cause swelling and damage that can lead to rapid
and severe vision loss. AMD rarely causes complete blindness, however,
wet AMD can lead to legal blindness without proper treatment. So what can you do to reduce your risk of
AMD? The disease is more common with age and people
over 60 have the highest risk. People with a family history of AMD, and who
are Caucasian, also have a higher risk. While you can’t change your age or your family
tree, there are things you can do to prevent, or delay, vision loss. Don’t smoke, and quit if you do. Wear proper sunglasses. Eat a diet rich in vision-protecting vitamins
and minerals. Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy
weight. Work with your healthcare professional to
control high blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors. Get regular, comprehensive, dilated eye exams–especially
if you notice changes in your vision. The earlier AMD and other eye diseases are
detected, the more treatment options are available. Although currently there are no treatments
for early AMD, a healthy lifestyle can help you keep your vision longer. The AREDS2 supplements–a combination of certain
high-dose vitamins–have been shown to help slow vision loss in intermediate AMD. For wet AMD, there are treatments available
that can help slow its progress, and even restore vision loss in some. After numbing the eye, a drug is injected
that works by blocking the protein that promotes new blood vessel growth. These injections can be intimidating at first,
but it’s important not to skip any. Without regular treatments, any improvements
can be reversed and future vision loss can be harder to treat. Laser surgery, and photodynamic therapy can
also treat wet AMD, but are becoming less commonly used. Scientists are also making progress in understanding
the genetics of AMD, and how the disease develops. And exploring promising ways to stop or slow
the disease, regenerate new retinal cells, and more. If you have vision loss from AMD, you should
discuss low vision rehabilitation with your eye care professional. Coping with vision loss can be scary, but
there’s a lot of help out there, and most people can learn to adapt with their remaining
peripheral–or side vision. A low vision specialist can make recommendations
for changes to your work and living environments and low vision devices may improve your ability
to see and function. Family, friends, and counselors can help you
stay positive, and support groups can connect you with others who are going through similar
experiences. And a strong team of healthcare professionals,
family, and friends can help you make the most of your remaining vision. Visit these organizations on-line for more


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