Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common eye disease that causes blurry or total loss to your central vision. This very common disease occurs mostly due to aging, impacting roughly 19.8 million Americans in 2019 per the CDC. Here’s what you need to know.
AMD is the leading cause of blindness or vision loss to Americans over the age of 65. AMD is also a major cause of vision loss worldwide—only falling behind by cataracts. However, AMD is considered the leading cause of blindness in developed countries.
Types of Age-related Macular Degeneration
The term “macular degeneration” comes from the part of your eye that processes your central vision called the macula. The macula is located at the center of the retina, in the very back of the eyeball. This part of the eye is pivotal in being able to see what is directly in front of you.
With AMD, the macula becomes damaged, so much so that anyone with it can eventually lose their central vision. Most of those who are diagnosed with AMD retain good peripheral eyesight since becoming entirely blind from the disease is rare. But everyday activities such as driving, sewing, reading, or cooking will become incredibly difficult to do—impossible even.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, several risk factors of getting AMD include:
- Having family history of AMD
- Being overweight
- Smoking cigarettes
- Being over 50 years old
- Having a diet of high saturated fats
- Being Caucasian
Types of Age-related Macular Degeneration
There are two types of AMD, which are classified as dry (the most common) and wet (the least common, but most dangerous) forms.
Dry Age-related Macular Degeneration
Of all AMD patients, 8 out of 10 of them are diagnosed with the dry form. Dry AMD (otherwise known as atrophic AMD) occurs when yellow-ish deposits, called drusen, grow on and around the macula. These deposits can grow easily due to the aging and thinning of the macula. Because this gradually happens over time, dry AMD is considered a progressive disease.
Stages of Dry Age-related Macular Degeneration
There are three stages to dry AMD: early, intermediate, and late. During the early stage, most people do not have symptoms.
In the intermediate stage, many will still not have symptoms. However, some will have a harder time adjusting their eyes to light (i.e. walking into a dark room) and some will even experience slight blurry vision to their central eye.
Lastly, during the late stage, people will have a harder time seeing straight lines as everything will start to appear wavy, curvy, or even crooked. Blurry spots or blank spots will begin to appear in the central vision, and those can get bigger over time. Adjusting to environments with lower-lighting will be even harder than before. Additionally, colors that were once so vibrant will become lack-luster.
Treatment for Dry AMD
If a person is in the early stages, annual dilated eye exams are the best route to follow as our doctor can track the changes in your macula.
And if diagnosed with intermediate dry AMD, the regiment of vitamin supplements known as the AREDS 2 formula can slow down the progression of the disease dramatically—and the best part is that this supplement can be bought at almost all drugstores.
Unfortunately, if dry AMD progresses into the late stage, there is no treatment to slow it down or reverse it. It is at this stage where it could get worse and turn into wet AMD. This is why it is very important to have annual visits with your eye doctor.
Wet Age-related Macular Degeneration
As stated before, wet AMD (also called advanced neovascular AMD) is considered the worst form of macular degeneration than the dry form. But it is noteworthy that wet AMD always starts out as the dry form.
This is because those with wet AMD have progressed so much in the late stage of dry AMD. And because of the gravity of being so far into the late stage, those with wet AMD lose their central vision at a significantly faster pace.
According to the Mayo Clinic, wet AMD occurs because of fluid build-up and newly forming blood vessels in the eye. The protein responsible for the growth of these new blood vessels in the wrong place of your eye is called the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).
When the protein makes these new blood vessels, fluid or blood leak into the macula, disrupting its function of clear, central vision. So instead of gradually losing your central eyesight with dry form, the loss of vision with this wet form is much faster and more severe.
Treatment for Wet AMD
There are currently two types of treatments available for wet AMD, which are the anti-VEGF injection and photodynamic therapy.
Anti-VEGF injections are given to patients to prohibit the blood vessels from leaking and bleeding into the macula. The doctor will numb the patient and inject the medicine into the eyeball through a small needle. To prohibit it from getting infected, the doctor will sterilize the eye as well. Because the side effects last a limited amount of time, the doctor may have to inject you several times over the course of a few months.
Photodynamic therapy—though only sometimes given—can be utilized along with the anti-VEGF injections. This uses a tiny laser that shoots light into your eyes.The medicine in the laser used is called verteporfin, and this will break down any formed blood vessels that had formed in the back of the eye.
Age-related macular degeneration is a complex disease that can prohibit someone from living their life to their fullest. However, there is now an array of treatments to fight against the disease—allowing those suffering with it a second chance to be able to see.
If you fall under any of the risks listed above, it is important to get checked out consistently by your eye doctor and to keep up with your health. Although the disease can be incredibly detrimental to someone’s overall way of life, taking control early on will ensure consistent eyesight.