All About: Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that may get worse over time and lead to severe, permanent vision loss in patients. It is the leading cause of severe, permanent vision loss in individuals over 60 years old.

The retina is the layer of tissue at the back of your eye that detects light, but it may wear down when the central part, called the macula, does. The macula is a small area in the middle of your retina, which can cause complete loss of sight if it wears out.

Age-related macular degeneration is a disease you can get only as you get older, so that’s why it’s often called ARMD. It will typically not cause blindness but may lead to severe vision problems.

Types of Macular Degeneration

In this new era, age-related macular degeneration is much more common. The two main forms of the disease are:

A dry form is one type of macular degeneration. It typically causes yellow spots in the retina, known as drusen. If a person only has a few drusen, they may not experience any changes in their vision. But as more and larger drusen form, their vision could change, especially if they spend a lot of time reading.

As light-sensitive cells in the macula get thinner and eventually die, patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) often experience some visual impairment. In atrophic AMD, sufferers may have central blind spots in their vision – a condition that worsens and can lead to central vision loss.

Wet form. Blood vessels grow under your retina, and eventually, they leak blood and fluid over the surface of your retina. Your vision is distorted so that straight lines look like waves. You may also have trouble seeing in the central region or blank spots in your vision. As these blood vessels and hemorrhages grow, they form a scar, leading to permanent blindness in the central area of your vision.

Macular degeneration is primarily a dry form of the disease, but it’s important to note that sometimes people can experience a wet form. The wet form is actually the rarest kind and only affects about 10% of all people with the disease.

If you’re struggling with macular degeneration, you will need to keep track of your eyesight and make sure you go in for regular checkups with your eye doctor.

Symptoms of macular degeneration

Early on, signs of macular degeneration may not be noticeable. It may go undetected until it worsens or affects both eyes.

Symptoms of macular degeneration may include:

Blurry vision. You might have trouble seeing details and reading text.

Gray or dark patches in the center of your vision.

Rarely, you might also see changes in color perception.

Causes of macular degeneration

As we age, we must be more mindful of our vision. This is especially true if you have a family member with age-related macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of severe vision loss among older people, affecting over 60% of those over age 60. If you smoke, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, are obese, eat lots of saturated fats, are light-skinned and blue-eyed, you are also at a higher risk for macular degeneration.

Macular Degeneration Diagnose

Your doctor can spot a variety of things during a routine eye exam, including age-related macular degeneration. One common early sign is drusen – tiny yellow spots on your retina from pigment clumping. These can be seen by the doctor during an examination.

Doctors may also evaluate macular degeneration by asking you to look at an Amsler grid. You might see some of the straight lines as wavy or that lines are missing. These can be signs of macular degeneration.

Doctors use a procedure called angiography to locate vessels leaking blood or fluid. This procedure is done by injecting dye into the patient’s arm and taking photos as the dye flows through the eye. If there are new vessels or vessels leaking fluid or blood, the photos will reveal their location and type. Alternatively, OCT can be used to identify leaking blood or fluid without any dye.

Treatments of Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration cannot be cured. Treatment can slow it down or keep symptoms under control.

  • Anti-angiogenesis drugs are medications that block the creation of vessels in the eye that cause wet macular degeneration. You might be required to have these treatments multiple times, as they don’t usually last forever.
  • Laser therapy. Laser light is able to destroy abnormal blood vessels that are growing in your eye and it can be a solution for many people’s problems with sight.
  • Photodynamic therapy is a new medical treatment that uses a light-sensitive drug and a laser. The patient’s doctor injects the light-sensitive drug into the patient’s bloodstream and it creates an effect on the abnormal blood vessels. The doctor then shines a laser in the patient’s eye to trigger the medication to have an effect on those blood vessels.
  • Low vision aids. These devices help people with macular degeneration, who have lost their eyesight, to see better. They do this by magnifying images or enhancing contrast.

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