The leading cause of vision impairment for individuals over 50 is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). Approximately 15 million Americans are affected by this, with 200,000 new cases reported annually.
What is AMD?
AMD is a progressive condition which causes blurry or blank spots in your central vision when the macula is damaged. The macula is a small spot near the center of the retina. There are two types of AMD – dry (the most common) and wet (which only affects 10% of those inflicted). Dry AMD is caused by the aging and thinning of the macula’s tissue as well as the development of drusen (yellow deposits under the retina). Wet is caused when abnormal blood vessels develop and leak fluid or blood under the retina. While neither form of AMD will lead to total blindness, the wet form progresses more quickly and causes more damage.
What are the symptoms?
As AMD is a progressive illness, you might not notice a change in vision for some time. If dry AMD develops in just one eye, there might not be symptoms as your healthy eye will compensate for the change in vision. Your peripheral vision is not affected.
Some symptoms of AMD include:
• Blank or blurry spots in your central vision
• A need for brighter lights for up-close reading
• Colors don’t seem as bright
• Sizes and colors are seen differently by each eye
• Distorted vision (straight lines seem to bend)
• Difficulty seeing when moving from brightly-lit to darker areas
• Trouble recognizing faces
Am I at risk?
Age-Related Macular Degeneration is most likely to occur after age 60, but it can develop at a younger age. Caucasians are more at risk than other races, and women more than men. Smoking doubles your risk. Other factors include heredity, high blood pressure, and obesity. Some studies indicate that those with light-colored eyes also have a greater risk.
Is there a cure?
Unfortunately, at this time there is no cure for AMD. Studies show that the progression of AMD may be slowed by eating a healthy diet, exercising, and wearing sunglasses. Antioxidant vitamins and zinc might slow the progression as well. You can monitor changes in your vision by using an Amsler Grid every day.
Your eye care professional can give you more information during your annual eye exam.