February is age-related macular degeneration month—a month where ophthalmologists are dedicated to raising awareness of this common, ocular condition which can cause blurred vision and even lead to vision loss. Unfortunately, many people still have a very limited understanding of this problem, even though it’s the leading cause of vision loss in people over 60 in the United States.
What is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration, also called age-related macular degeneration or AMD, is a condition that affects the middle part of your vision. It occurs when the macula, which is an area at the very back of your eye that is responsible for your central vision, becomes damaged.
There are two types of macular degeneration. These are referred to as ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ AMD.
Wet age-related macular degeneration
The ‘wet’ variety of age-related macular degeneration occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow in the macula. When this happens, they can leak blood and other fluid that causes scarring and subsequently causes the patient to lose much of their central vision. Wet AMD is less common than dry AMD, affecting only around 10–15% of AMD patients, and it comes on fairly quickly—usually over a few weeks. Prompt diagnosis is essential if the condition is to be treated successfully.
Dry age-related macular degeneration
Dry AMD refers to the slow and gradual deterioration of the cells of macula. Unfortunately, as some people age, these cells are not renewed and as such, their eyesight is adversely affected. There is nothing ‘dry’ about the condition, the term is merely used to differentiate this type of AMD from the wet variety. Dry AMD tends to occur over a number of years, and symptoms are often not noticeable for some time.
Symptoms of age-related macular degeneration
The exact ways in which macular degeneration affects someone can vary between patients, but common symptoms of the condition can include:
Dark spots in the center of your vision
Objects that should appear straight (such as fence panels or lamp posts) seem to bend
Colors that fade and don’t seem as bright as before
Difficulty with your vision when moving from dark to light environments, such as going outside after watching a movie in a dark theater
Difficulty tolerating bright lights
Words that seem to disappear whilst you are reading them
Objects that seem to move, disappear or change in shape, size or color while you are looking at them
Am I at risk of developing age-related macular degeneration?
Although AMD is more commonly diagnosed in patients aged over 60 years old, there are some additional risk factors that are believed to increase your likelihood of suffering from the condition. These risk factors include:
Consuming recreational drugs
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
Consuming a poor-quality diet that lacks the vitamins and minerals needed for healthy eyes
Diagnosing age-related macular degeneration
Your ophthalmologist has the knowledge, training and experience to be able to successfully diagnose age-related macular degeneration. The process normally involves a comprehensive eye exam during which you may be given eye drops to dilate your pupils. This allows your ophthalmologist to see the back of your eyes more clearly. Your vision may be blurred for some time after this, and you may need to consider taking someone with you who can drive you home.
During your eye exam, your ophthalmologist may use a test known as optical coherence tomography (OCT). This involves taking scans of your eye that create cross-sectional images of the retina so that your doctor can see if there is any damage to the macula.
Treatment for age-related macular degeneration
As it stands, there is currently no definitive cure for AMD. There are, however, some treatments that can delay the progression of the disease or even improve your vision for some time. As with most conditions, the earlier age-related macular degeneration is identified, the sooner preventative action can begin. This could help prevent total vision loss.
With dry macular degeneration, patients are advised to make lifestyle changes that could slow down the progression of the disease, and your ophthalmologist will be happy to advise you on what steps you can take to reduce the effects that this condition is having on your life. However, with wet AMD, it is possible to treat the abnormal blood vessels growing inside the macula, which should stop them from growing, leaking and bleeding under the retina. This treatment usually involves small injections into the eye itself. Although it doesn’t sound very pleasant, it is performed using anesthetic and has proven to be very successful in treating the condition.
Give us a call to learn more about macular degeneration or make an appointment with a Grin Eye Care provider in Olathe or Leawood, KS! 913-829-5511