Risk Levels of Developing Age-Related Macular Degeneration

As we keep our hearts in check this love month, February is also Age-Related AMD Awareness Month.AMD stands for Age-Related Macular Degeneration. It is the leading cause of severe vision loss for those 50 years and older. It is a progressive and usually painless eye disease that initially doesn’t present many symptoms at its onset.

AMD occurs when the eye’s macula starts to deteriorate, diminishing central vision. The macula is the small central portion of the retina, or the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye.AMD develops slowly over time with symptoms often going unnoticed until significant damage has already occurred.

Macular Degeneration may only happen in one eye, and initial vision loss can go undetected due to overall vision not being affected until the disease has progressed over time. It causes central vision to blur while peripheral vision is unaffected.

Central vision is necessary to see straight ahead and distinguish fine details. Due to the subtlety of symptoms, it is important to have annual, comprehensive eye exams to detect any vision issues while still in its early stages.There are two forms of AMD—dry and wet. Dry AMD is the most common and is a result of metabolic end products that collect under the retina, also referred to as drusen, which are white or yellow fatty protein deposits.

Eyesight becomes dimmed or distorted as drusen grow. In advanced stages, the macula which is a part of the retina becomes thinner and can lead to blind spots or complete loss of central vision.

Wet AMD is far less common but advances much more rapidly and can cause sudden or gradual vision loss. Abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the macula and leak blood and fluid into the retina. The abnormal blood vessels eventually scar and cause permanent loss of central vision.

In some cases, dry AMD can turn into wet AMD. Symptoms of AMD include dark, blurry spots in the center of vision and a decrease in the brightness of colors.   Straight lines can even appear to be wavy.

Dr. Steven Rhee of Hawaiian Eye Center says:

“Since the early changes in the retina may not cause vision changes or only slight vision changes to one eye, it is common to not realize that AMD is developing.  Therefore, it’s important to get routine, comprehensive eye exams, especially if you are over 50 and have a family history of AMD.”Risk factors for AMD include:

– Being 50 and older
– Smoking
– Obesity, hypertension, or high cholesterol
– Family history of the disease
– Caucasians and women at higher risk to develop AMDCurrently, there’s no treatment for early AMD and no cure for the dry form, but symptoms can be lessened by eating a nutrition-dense diet and not smoking, as well as taking supplements.

Nutritional supplements based on extensive studies conducted by the National Eye Institute are available from several manufacturers and may be referred to as AREDS or AREDS2 (Age-Related Eye Disease Studies).

These supplements consist of high doses of certain vitamins and minerals (vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper, lutein and zeaxanthin) and were used for trials in older age groups diagnosed with AMD and found that they significantly helped to slow the progression for those with intermediate or late AMD.

Wet AMD can be treated with a medication that is injected into the eye.  This medication treats the retina directly and helps to control the growth of abnormal blood vessels. Injectable treatment stabilizes and sometimes improves vision by up to 34%.

Even with treatment, AMD may still progress or reoccur. It’s important to speak with an eye care professional about treatment options and risks and continue to schedule routine eye exams for early detection.

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