There are many conditions that can affect our eyes during our lifetime. However, as we get older there is one that we are particularly likely to experience. It is known as macular degeneration. Some people refer to it as age-related macular degeneration or AMD for short. Although total blindness as a result of AMD is rare, it does have a considerable impact on the vision of those that suffer from it – enough to make your usual day to day activities such as reading, driving and even recognizing the people around you much more difficult. This is because it primarily affects the central part of your vision that we are most reliant on for these tasks and more.
Here’s what you need to know about this common eye condition.
There are actually two different forms of macular degeneration. Both will cause the same result – damage to your central vision. However, the reason why this occurs and how quickly you will experience will depend on the type of AMD you have.
Dry AMD, which is the most common, develops very slowly over a number of years. The vision lost with dry AMD occurs due to the natural deterioration of the cells of the macula, an area of light-sensitive cells within the retina. Symptoms of dry AMD are subtle, and many cases of the condition are only picked up at routine eye exams.
Wet AMD is fairly rare and occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow in the macula. They can leak blood and fluid which damages it and therefore affect vision. Unlike dry AMD, the wet form can develop quickly and requires prompt treatment to prevent further damage to your vision.
Although it isn’t known precisely why some people develop macular degeneration and others don’t, there are specific factors that have been shown to negatively influence the likelihood of it occurring. These risk factors include:
Being over the age of 50
Having a family history of the condition
Suffering from cardiovascular diseases
Adopting a healthier lifestyle in early adulthood could help to reduce the number of patients who experience AMD later on.
Macular degeneration is typically identified and diagnosed as part of a routine comprehensive eye exam. There are several different elements that will make this diagnosis possible. These include but are not limited to:
A dilated eye exam. This is where eye drops are used to dilate your pupils so that your eye doctor can look into your eye and check the retina and macula for any signs of disease or damage. This includes looking for signs of deterioration.
Ophthalmoscopy exam. An ophthalmoscope is an instrument that is used to examine the interior structures of the eye, including the retina. This will also enable your eye doctor to identify any damage indicative of macular degeneration.
Fluorescein angiography. This process involves injecting a special fluorescent dye into your bloodstream to see if and how it affects the blood vessels of the eyes. If any fluorescent patches appear in your eye, it could be that the blood vessels are leaking – a sure sign of wet AMD.
Treatment for macular degeneration largely depends on what type you are diagnosed with. Unfortunately, for the majority of people who are diagnosed with dry AMD, there is no actual treatment, but rather patients are advised to utilize some of the many living aids available to reduce the effect that it has on their lives. These include using devices such as magnifying lenses, putting brighter lighting into your home and using software and mobile apps that can make things like smartphones and computers easier to use. Your eye doctor will give you specific information about what help is available and what they feel will be most valuable to you.
If you are diagnosed with wet AMD, you may need regular injections of a type of medication known as Anti-VGEF’s. These are given directly into the eyes (following the application of anesthetic eye drops) and are very effective at reducing any further vision loss. Research has shown that it stops vision worsening in around 9 in 10 patients, and as many as 3 in 10 may see their vision improve. If these injections are unsuccessful, you may also be referred for a treatment known as photodynamic therapy which is a light treatment designed to destroy the abnormal blood vessels that cause wet AMD.
For more information about macular degeneration, please contact our friendly and knowledgeable eye care team in Shalimar, FL today.