Approximately 2.1 million people nationwide had age-related macular degeneration in 2010, according to the National Eye Institute. By 2050, that number will more than double to a whopping 5.4 million. With February being Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Low Vision Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to point a spotlight on the leading cause of blindness among older Americans.
What is AMD?
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (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 rapid and severe.
Signs of AMD can go unnoticed, but according to the American Optometric Association, some indicators do exist, such as gradual inability to see objects, distorted shapes of objects, 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. While eye doctors recommend everyone be seen once a year to catch a possible myriad of potential eye issues early on for AMD, it’s important that people over 65 be consistent with this routine. With no early warning signs for AMD, the annual exam is critical.
- 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, according to the NEI.
For more, check out the handy infographic below. And make sure you schedule your comprehensive eye exam with a local VSP Network doctor annually. Until then, check out how you can test yourself for signs of AMD every day.