Just one more thing we need to worry about as we age: our eyesight.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of drastic, irreversible vision loss in people over the age of 60. Though common, it’s not necessarily something you think about in your earlier years, but you probably should. There are steps you can take to keep your eyes healthy and lessen the chances that you’ll get this debilitating disease.
Here they are. The facts, and nothing but the facts about AMD.
What Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
AMD is almost never totally blinding, however this condition can be a source of significant visual disability. In some people, the disease progresses quickly and may lead to a loss of vision in one or both eyes. In others, it may advance very slowly, and vision loss doesn’t occur for a long time.
A common symptom that people complain about is a blurred area near the center of vision. As time goes on, that blurred area may grow larger, putting you at risk for developing blank spots in your central vision. Objects may not appear as bright as they used to be. AMD doesn’t lead to complete blindness, but the loss of central vision can certainly interfere with everyday activities like the ability to see faces, drive, write, read, or do close work like fixing things around the house.
What Does Age-Related Macular Degeneration Do To Eyes?
AMD damages the macula, a small spot near the center of the retina and the part of the eye necessary for sharp, central vision. It’s what lets us see straight ahead. The macula is made up of millions of light-sensing cells that give us that central vision. The retina, located at the back of the eye, turns light into electrical signals, which are sent through the optic nerve to the brain so they can be translated into the images we see. The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina, and when it’s damaged, it affects your center field of vision. Things may appear blurry, distorted, or dark.
Though your central vision is affected, your peripheral (side) vision will still be completely normal. An easy example would be to imagine looking at a round clock face. With AMD, you could see the clock’s numbers, but probably not the hands. There would be a big cloudy or black “hole” in your vision in that spot.
Two Types of Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Dry and Wet
Dry AMD is commonly the cause in about 80% of people with AMD. Parts of the macula get thinner as you age, and tiny clumps of protein (drusen) form. The progression is slow, but there is no way to treat it yet.
While less common, the wet form of AMD is much more serious. Here, protein clumps aren’t the problem. Abnormal blood vessels start to grow under the retina. They may leak blood or other fluids, causing scarring of the macula and a quickly-progressing loss of vision.
Symptoms of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Many people don’t even know that they have a problem in the early stages of AMD. These signs may go unnoticed:
- Object’s shapes appear distorted
- Loss of clear color vision
- Gradual loss of ability to see objects clearly
- Straight lines may look crooked or wavy
- A dark empty area in the center of vision
If you notice any of these changes, you should contact your optometrist immediately. They can perform a variety of tests to determine if these changes could be related to AMD or other eye health problems.
You can follow changes in your vision between doctor’s visits with the help of an Amsler Grid, used to track changes in your vision.
Can You Treat Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
Vision loss that results from AMD cannot be restored, but there are low-vision devices like telescopic and microscopic lenses that can maximize your existing vision.
Doctors believe there’s a link between nutrition and the progression of Dry AMD. While there’s no cure, and the vision you’ve lost can’t be restored, making dietary changes and taking nutritional supplements can slow your vision loss.
Wet AMD may be treated if detected early. Laser therapy, photocoagulation, focuses a beam of light to seal the leaking blood vessels that are damaging the macula. With photodynamic therapy, a medication is injected into the bloodstream. A laser shined into the eye activates the medication. Sometimes medication can be injected into the back of the eye to slow the growth of leaky blood vessels.
While these treatments can help to minimize vision loss, none of them are permanent cures.
Can Age-Related Macular Degeneration Be Prevented?
There are about 20 genes that may be linked to more than 50% of AMD cases, so you are at a higher risk if other members of your family have it. While some factors like age, ethnicity, gender, and your genetics are out of your control, there are lifestyle changes you can make now that can reduce your risk for developing certain eye diseases like AMD.
- There is a link between eye-friendly nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin, Vitamins C and E, and zinc.
- Smokers risk for AMD could be up to four times as much as someone who’s never smoked, probably because smoking reduces the amount of oxygen that goes to different parts of your body, including your eyes.
- High blood pressure also restricts the amount of oxygen going to your eyes.
- People with heart disease and/or high cholesterol are at greater risk for developing AMD.
- Though not yet proven, studies show that people with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 can more than double their chances of developing AMD.
- Since the sun can damage your eyes, spending too much time in the sun without adequate sun protection could raise your odds of AMD.
- Some medications may be linked to a greater risk.
- A diet high in fat and sugar and low in leafy vegetables may add to your chances of getting AMD, as can having more than three alcoholic drinks a day.