by Dr. Todd Overley, Associates in Eye Care of Williamsburg
Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of severe vision loss in adults
over age 50. There are about 1.8 million Americans that have AMD and another
7.3 million are at risk for vision loss from AMD.
Individuals with fair skin and blue eyes are at higher risk for developing AMD. Women tend to develop AMD at a younger age than men. There are genetic factors that may be involved as well, so if you have relatives with AMD it is important to have yearly eye exams.
This eye disease occurs when there are degenerative changes to the macula, which is a small central part of the retina that is used to see fine details. AMD is a loss of central vision that can occur in a “dry” and “wet” form. The wet form occurs with fluid beneath the retina starts leaking through the retina from the blood supply beneath it leading to rapid vision loss.
Most people with macular degeneration have the dry form. While there is no specific treatment for dry AMD, studies have shown a potential benefit from over the counter vitamin supplements, a heart healthy diet, regular exercise, and stop smoking. The less common wet form may respond to injections of medications into the eye if detected and treated early.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of AMD
In its early stages, signs of macular degeneration include a gradual loss of the ability to see objects clearly, objects appear distorted, lines that you know are straight appear to look wavy, and a dark area in the center of vision that will not go away. These can often go unnoticed, so it is important to check each eye individually on a daily basis.
If you experience any of the above signs or symptoms, contact your doctor of optometry immediately for a comprehensive eye examination. Your optometrist will perform a variety of tests to determine if you have macular degeneration or any other eye health problems.
Central vision that is lost to macular degeneration cannot be restored. However, low-vision devices, such as telescopic and microscopic lenses, can improve existing vision.
Treatment of AMD
With “dry” macular degeneration, the tissue of the macula gradually deteriorates and becomes thin and stops working properly. There is no cure for dry AMD, and any loss in central vision cannot be restored.
There seems to be a link between nutrition and the progression of dry AMD. Making dietary changes such as eating a heart healthy diet, exercise, and taking nutritional supplements can often slow vision loss.
In about 10% of cases, “wet” macular degeneration occurs. This is when fluids leak from newly formed blood vessels under the macula. This leakage causes a sudden and severe loss of central vision.
If detected early, wet AMD can be treated with intraocular injections of anti-VEGF medications.
Researchers have linked nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc to reducing the risk of certain eye diseases, including macular degeneration. So even though it may not prevent the occurrence of AMD, it may slow its progression.
Regular eye exams from your optometrist can help detect these changes in their earliest stages.