Approximately 2.1 million people nationwide had age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in 2010, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). By 2050, that number will more than double to a whopping 5.4 million. With February being AMD and Low Vision Awareness Month, it’s an appropriate time to point a spotlight on the leading cause of blindness among older adults.
What is AMD?
AMD is the leading cause of severe vision loss in adults over age 50. This eye disease occurs when there are changes to the macula, a small portion of the retina that is located on the inside back layer of the eye.
AMD is a loss of central vision, and can occur in two forms: a “dry” (atrophic) and a “wet” (exudative) form. With dry AMD, the tissue of the macula gradually becomes thin and stops working properly. Wet AMD occurs when fluids leak from newly formed blood vessels under the macula. This leakage blurs central vision. While wet AMD is less common, it progresses much faster and vision loss can be more rapid and severe.
Signs of AMD can often go unnoticed. However, according to the American Optometric Association, some indicators do exist, such as gradual inability to see objects, distorted object shapes, straight lines looking wavy or crooked, a loss of color vision, or a dark or empty area in the center of vision.
Who is at risk?
According to the NEI, there are several risk factors for AMD:
- Age: The disease is most likely to occur after age 60.
- Smoking: Research shows that smoking can double the risk of AMD.
- Race: AMD is more common among Caucasians.
- Family history: People with a family history of AMD are at higher risk.
What can you do?
There are several ways to help prevent AMD:
- Get regular comprehensive eye exams. Eye doctors generally recommend everyone be seen once a year to maintain your healthiest possible vision and to look for signs of more serious diseases. For people over 65, it’s very important to be consistent with this routine because there are no early warning signs for AMD.
- Quit smoking. Easier said than done, right? Well, the American Macular Degeneration Foundation offers some pretty good reasons you might want to consider it.
- Know your family’s eye history. Ask around and be prepared to tell your eye doctor who in your family has or had AMD.
- Diet and exercise. Eating a healthy diet and getting exercise have been shown to protect against AMD.
- Test your vision with an Amsler grid. Call your eye doctor right away if you notice any blurry/wavy lines or dark/blank spots.
If you already have AMD, there are various therapies that may help slow or prevent further vision loss from more advanced stages of the disease. It’s important to note that to date, there are no readily available cures for AMD and therapies can’t reverse damage that has already been done.
Therapies include regular injections and laser surgeries. Further research and testing is being done to see if certain nutritional supplements such as: vitamin C and E, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin, could help protect or slow the progression of the disease. However, the treatments are not a cure for AMD and the condition may still persist even with the above therapies.
If you’re at risk or concerned you have AMD, schedule your comprehensive eye exam with a local VSP Network doctor.