Age-related macular degeneration is the No. 1 cause of blindness in the United States. Are you at risk for this common eye condition?
Don’t Be Blindsided by Age-related Macular Degeneration
If you have been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), you are not alone. In fact, a new case of AMD is diagnosed every three minutes in the United States. One in six Americans between ages 55 and 64 is affected, as is one in four between ages 64 and 74. One in three Americans over age 75 also has the condition.
What Is AMD?
AMD is a term used to describe a number of different disorders of the eye’s macula. The macula is located in the center of the retina at the back of the eye. Its function is to provide sight in the center of our field of vision, allowing us to see distinct colors and fine details. AMD occurs when the light-sensing cells in the macula malfunction or stop working altogether. This results in mild to severe central vision loss, though peripheral vision remains intact. Each year 1.2 million of the estimated 12 million people with AMD will suffer severe central vision loss. Each year 200,000 individuals will lose all central vision in one or both eyes. It is the No. 1 cause of blindness in the United States.
AMD has two forms—dry and wet. The dry form is more common—comprising 85 to 90 percent of cases—and results in mild vision loss. The wet form poses a much greater threat to vision and is caused by blood vessels beneath the retina that leak fluid and blood. This leakage creates a blind spot in the center of the vision field.
What Causes AMD?
There is no known cause for AMD. Most cases are due to environmental factors or heredity. According to the Macular Degeneration Foundation, genetic researchers have discovered a group of genes that may increase the likelihood for AMD by 30 percent.
Who Is At Risk for AMD?
The risk for developing AMD increases with age. Other risk factors include:
Race – Caucasians are much more likely to lose vision from the condition than African Americans.
Family history – People with a family history are at higher risk.
Gender – Women appear to be at greater risk than men.
What Are the Symptoms?
While AMD is the most common cause of severe vision loss in people over age 60, symptoms often start in the 40s or 50s. These symptoms include:
Straight lines that look wavy or distorted
Vision that is blurred or fuzzy
A dark or empty “hole” that appears in the center of vision
Colors that are dim or blurred.
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above in one or both of your eyes, consult your ophthalmologist or health care professional for an eye examination.
How Is AMD Diagnosed?
The first step in diagnosing AMD is with a comprehensive medical eye examination. A retinal examination is done to detect any symptoms of eye disease. The eye exam also includes a visual acuity test.
Your ophthalmologist may conduct further tests to better access your eye condition. These include:
Fluorescein angiography. This test uses dye and a special camera to take pictures of the retina and blood vessels in the eye.
Electroretinography. During this procedure, a point in the macula is illuminated and an electrical signal is obtained.
Amsler grid. Patients stare at a central dot on the grid and observe patterns of vertical and horizontal lines.
Slit lamp exam. This test uses a biomicroscope, a slit-lamp (an instrument that can be focused to shine as a slit), and dye to examine the eye and look for any abnormalities.
How Is AMD Treated?
For dry AMD, many physicians recommend antioxidants, beta carotene, vitamins C and E, selenium, and zinc supplements.
For severe wet AMD, laser surgery is an option. During this treatment, a laser beam is used to destroy abnormal blood vessels or diseased tissues. Other treatments being investigated include electrical nerve stimulation and gene therapy.
Is AMD Preventable?
AMD cannot be prevented. But there are some things you can do to help reduce your risk, including quitting smoking, eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, and wearing sunglasses with ultraviolet protection. Also, consult your doctor if you are taking estrogen replacement therapy—it could speed up the disease’s progression. Eat foods high in vitamins E and C, carotenoids, and lutein (an antioxidant). Dark, leafy vegetables are a good source for these nutrients. Finally, practice good eye health—get eye exams regularly.
If you have concerns about your vision, talk to your ophthalmologist or health care professional.
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