By Salman Rahman, M.D.
As with most functions of the human body, our vision starts to deteriorate with age. It’s not uncommon that middle-aged people need corrective lenses when they previously never did. Reading glasses or bifocals become necessary to work at the computer or read a book.
But age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a separate, more serious condition that can cause severe vision loss. Untreated AMD is the leading cause of permanent vision loss in Americans over 50.
The macula is the central, most sensitive part of the retina and is responsible for providing sharp, central vision. AMD is a disease that deteriorates the macula and leaves the sufferer with only peripheral vision. They can no longer see straight ahead and struggle to perform everyday activities like driving a car, watching TV, working on a computer, and identifying faces.
Since gradual vision loss is normal as we age, many times the warning signs of AMD go unnoticed. But in some cases, AMD can occur with no warning, causing sudden vision loss in one or both eyes.
Macular Degeneration Risk Factors
Since macular degeneration is associated with aging, the most obvious risk factor is being over 50 years of age. But another significant risk factor could be family history. There is research suggesting that AMD can be associated with certain genetic mutations.
Additionally, the following factors may contribute to the development of AMD:
- Race - Caucasians appear to be at a higher risk than other races.
- Gender - While AMD can develop in both men and women, women tend to develop AMD at an earlier age than men.
- Obesity - Studies suggest that AMD patients who are overweight are twice as likely to have a severe or advanced form of the disorder.
- Cardiovascular disease - There is evidence that having a heart condition may increase the risk of developing AMD.
- Smoking - Studies also suggest that smoking can double one’s risk of developing AMD.
Types and Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
There are two types of age-related macular degeneration — dry and wet — with dry macular degeneration accounting for 90% of all AMD cases.
Dry macular degeneration has three stages: mild, intermediate, and advanced. In the mild stage, the macula slowly begins to accumulate yellowish deposits called drusen. Drusen may go unnoticed or may cause mild to moderate distortion. In the intermediate and advanced stages, additional drusen accumulate with associated atrophy, or loss of tissue leading to further distortion or vision loss.
Wet macular degeneration is an advanced form of AMD that occurs when abnormal blood vessels form under the macula and leak blood and other fluid. This causes severe blurring and distortion of the central vision. Those who develop wet macular degeneration typically experience dry macular degeneration first. With early detection and prevention, however, severe vision loss from wet AMD can, in many cases, be avoided.
Symptoms of AMD typically develop gradually in one or both eyes and may include:
- Distorted vision with straight lines appearing wavy or bent
- Dark patches or blurry spots in your field of vision
- Printed words appearing more blurry
- Difficulty recognizing or distinguishing faces
Macular Degeneration Prevention and Treatment
There is currently no cure for age-related macular degeneration, but there are ways to decrease the risk of progression when detected early.
To help reduce your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration:
- Quit smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a diet rich in dark, leafy vegetables, vitamins C and E, and zinc
- Manage any medical conditions that increase your risk of ADM, such as cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure
The best treatment for AMD is early detection because you can begin taking the above measures to slow vision loss.
Those who are diagnosed with AMD may benefit from working with a low vision rehabilitation specialist or occupational therapist who can suggest ways to adapt to changing vision.
If you or someone you know is experiencing vision loss and is concerned about age-related macular degeneration, the physicians at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic can help with regular eye exams and vision screenings, as well as expert advice on how to reduce your risk. Call 713-442-0427 to make appointment.
Dr. Rahman is an ophthalmologist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. He cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Berthelsen Main Campus, The Woodlands Clinic, and Clear Lake Clinic. His clinical interests include medical and surgical treatment of retinal diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, retinal vascular disease, retinal detachment, macular holes, and epiretinal membranes.