Age-Related Macular Degeneration/Low Vision

Macular Degeneration

One of the leading causes of vision loss among those age 50 and older is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD or ARMD). It’s a long and complicated name for a common eye condition. In laymen’s terms, it causes damage to the most sensitive part of the retina of the eye, which controls vision for objects straight ahead and is needed to maintain sharp, central vision. It is most likely to affect those age 60 and older but can occur earlier in life.

AMD affects many people but can behave differently depending on the person. In some individuals, it advances slowly and does not cause vision loss for a long time. In other cases, there is rapid on-set of vision loss. Although it affects central vision, it does not lead to total blindness, however macular degeneration interferes with one’s ability to drive, read, to write, to perform close-up work and even to read faces.

Diet and habits factor into the incidence of AMD development. For example, smoking doubles the risk. High blood pressure and cholesterol also increase one’s chances of macular degeneration. Caucasians are more likely to develop AMD than Hispanics, Latinos, or African-Americans. A family history of AMD also increases one’s chances of age-related vision loss.

There are three stages of AMD: early, intermediate, and late. Late AMD comes in two forms: dry AMD (geographic atrophy) and wet AMD (neovascular AMD). Wet AMD eye changes may cause rapid and severe damage, unlike those with dry AMD. Some symptoms of AMD are the development of blurred central vision and vision becoming dimmed or darkened so that images do not appear as bright. Over time, the blurred areas can expand and cause blank spots in vision. Another manifestation is pigment changes under the retina (detectable by an eye doctor). Unfortunately, early and intermediate AMD usually has no symptoms. Maintaining a current eye exam is the best way to monitor one’s vision for any developing issues.

For people with early AMD, there’s hope. Just 5-14 percent of early AMD patients will develop late AMD. With prompt detection, one can lessen their chances even more. A healthy diet of leafy greens, fish and other nutritious foods can lower one’s chances of the condition developing or worsening. Consistent exercise and avoiding smoking are also advised.

Specific tests for AMD are: the visual acuity test, dilated eye exam, testing with the Amsler grid, fluorescein angiogram, and optical coherence tomography.