What You Need To Know
Macular degeneration (also known as AMD or age related macular degeneration) occurs when the part of your retina called the macula becomes damaged. The retina is a layer of light sensitive tissue which lines the inside of the back of your eye. The macula (say MACK-you-la) is the part of your retina that is responsible for your central vision and your ability to make out fine details and faces.
With AMD, your central vision is lost, although your ability to see at the edges of your visual field may remain. If you picture a clock face as a circle with the hands in the middle and the numbers going around the edge, with AMD you would likely not be able to see the hands but could still make out the numbers. AMD rarely causes complete blindness, but the loss of central vision is still quite distressing and can lead to significant impairment.
There are two types of AMD: dry AMD and wet AMD. The dry form is the most common and is caused when the tissues of the macula become thinner with age. Clumps of protein start to form and your central vision is affected. The wet form is less common but it is more serious. With the wet form, new blood vessels start to grow under the retina and to leak blood or other fluids into the macula area causing swelling. The dry form of AMD can progress into the wet form of AMD, so it is important to see your eye doctor for regular checkups to monitor your progress.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
In AMD’s early stages, you may have no symptoms until the disease progresses far enough to noticeably affect your vision. You will then start to notice your vision has become blurred, with a dim, blurry spot in the center, which may get bigger or darker as time goes on. Some people with AMD also have problems seeing in the dark and seeing colors the way they used to. You may have been given an Amsler grid (https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/facts-about-amsler-grid-daily-vision-test) by your doctor. An Amsler grid may help you identify if your dry AMD has progressed to wet AMD. You should be seen by your eye doctor as soon as possible if you suspect this has occurred.
WHO IS AT RISK?
There are several risk factors which you cannot control including: being over the age of 50, having blood relatives who have AMD and being Caucasian. Yet, there are several factors which you do have control over including: maintaining a diet low in saturated fats (found in butter, meat and cheese), keeping a healthy weight and not smoking.
How Is Macular Degeneration Treated?
Our eye physicians, David W. Switzer MD and George F. Hatch MD, can diagnose and treat both forms of macular degeneration. The approach to the two forms of AMD is different.
Dry AMD- Although there is no treatment for Dry AMD, you may benefit from taking a special combination of vitamins and minerals. There has been research showing that people with Dry AMD who took the following combination of vitamins and minerals were able to slow the rate at which their disease progressed. Our eye physicians will be able to advise if these supplements would be good for you to take if you have Dry AMD.
With Wet AMD, there are medications, as well as laser surgery as options. The medications and laser treatments will help to slow the growth of abnormal blood vessels and stop leaky vessels in your eye. Your eye specialist will help you determine the best option for you.
Remember to address those risk factors which are under your control (diet, weight and smoking) and to see your eye care physician for regular checkups. If you have already been diagnosed with AMD, Dr. Hatch or Dr. Switzer would be happy to evaluate and treat you.