Macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness, becomes a common eye concern as we age. We asked Mitchell Strominger, MD, registered ophthalmologist with Renown Health, specializing in pediatric ophthalmology and neuro-ophthalmology, about this condition.
What is Macular Degeneration (AMD or ARMD)?
AMD (macular degeneration) and ARMD (age-related macular degeneration) get worse over time. They happen when part of the central retina (macula) is damaged. This part of the eye delivers sharp, central vision needed to see objects straight ahead of you. Slowly this loss of center sight can make everyday activities such as driving, reading and clearly seeing faces, difficult.
Two Types of AMD
Dry Macular Degeneration
Overall, this is the most common type affecting 80% of people with AMD. It happens when fatty protein (drusen) grow as the macula thins with age.
Additionally, you slowly lose your central vision. For example, if you are looking directly at a person’s face, it is blurred. However, the background is in focus. Unfortunately there is no current treatment for dry AMD.
Wet Macular Degeneration
Although wet AMD is less common, it is more serious. It happens when new, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina. Scarring of the macula occurs when these blood vessels leak. Vision loss happens faster with wet AMD.
How to Spot AMD
Signs of AMD include blurry vision, distorted focus and loss of sight. If you notice these signs, a complete eye exam by an ophthalmologist is recommended.
Furthermore, a full inspection of the retina is necessary. Special tests may be used to see if fluid is leaking into the retina.
Risk Factors for AMD
- Family history of AMD
- Age (more common for 50+)
- High blood pressure
- Being overweight
- Eating a high fat diet
Ways to Prevent AMD
2.1 million Americans have AMD. The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers seven tips to help you take control of your eye health.
- Schedule regular eye exams. Generally speaking AMD has no early signs. Regular comprehensive eye exams from an ophthalmologist are critical for early diagnosis. Have a baseline eye disease screening at age 40 (for those without eye problems or risk factors). However, an exam every one to two years is needed by age 65, even if you do not experience any eye issues.
- Don’t smoke. Your risk of developing AMD increases, and it progresses faster, if you smoke. Compared with nonsmokers, smokers are two times more likely to develop AMD.
- Eat a colorful diet, including fish. Of course eating fruits and vegetables is always a good idea, but it may also keep your vision sharp. Researchers found those adding regular servings of fish, rich in omega-3s, lowered the risk of developing AMD.
- Take the right kind of vitamins. Certain vitamins can delay progression of advanced AMD. Consult your doctor as high-dose vitamins can interfere with medications. Equally important, recent studies found inconsistency in vitamin formulas.
- Make time to move. You can protect your eyes by exercising two or three times a week.
- Use an Amsler Grid. An Amsler grid can detect AMD early. You can print one to test your eyes as part of an easy daily routine. Use the grid to find any vision changes and report them to your eye doctor.
- Keep an eye on your family. You have a 50 percent greater chance of developing AMD if someone in your family has it. Ask your relatives about their eye health history. You may need more eye exams based on your family history.
What is the long term view for someone with AMD?
First, patients with AMD need regular follow-up. Second, medicated eye injections may be needed to lessen the loss of eyesight . There is currently no cure for AMD.
What can I do to reduce the effects of AMD?
Since high blood pressure is a risk factor for AMD, it is important to track your blood pressure and keep it under control.