February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month!
What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)?
AMD is an eye disease that involves deterioration of the macula, which is the small central area of the retina that controls visual acuity. It leads to blurred vision, as well as loss of central vision.
There are many risk factors associated with AMD. Though macular degeneration is associated with aging, research suggests there also is a genetic component to the disease.
lighter eye color
high levels of dietary fat
and potentially, sun exposure
Wet vs Dry AMD
There are two types of AMD: wet and dry. Dry AMD is more common - about 80% of cases are dry. Wet AMD, though less common, typically leads to more severe vision loss and progresses much more rapidly.
Dry AMD is an early stage of the disease and may result from the aging and thinning of macular tissues, depositing of pigment in the macula or a combination of the two processes. Dry macular degeneration is diagnosed when yellowish spots known as drusen begin to accumulate in and around the macula. It is believed these spots are deposits or debris from deteriorating tissue. In early stages, there are usually no symptoms. The disease may be identified during a routine dilated eye exam. The iWellness screening offered in our office is a great tool for the doctor to help detect the early, subtle changes associated with AMD. In intermediate stages, some may experience central vision blurriness and trouble seeing in low light. And in late stages, you may see straight lines as wavy or crooked. More significant vision blurriness and blank spots will be noticed.
With wet macular degeneration, new blood vessels grow beneath the retina and leak blood and fluid. This leakage causes permanent damage to light-sensitive retinal cells, which die off and create blind spots in central vision. Most symptoms are the same as late stages of dry AMD; vision blurriness, blank spots, wavy/crooked lines. You may also notice colors are less vivid than they used to be, and it may be harder to see clearly in low lighting.
Ways to Protect Your Eyes from AMD
eating a healthy, well-balanced diet (with lots of leafy green vegetables!)
monitoring and controlling your blood pressure
regular, comprehensive eye exams!
Prevention & treatment
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for AMD. Certain treatments may be helpful at slowing the progression of the disease, but the best thing you can do is reduce your risk before the disease develops.
No FDA-approved treatments exist yet for dry macular degeneration, although nutritional intervention may help prevent its progression to the wet form. We prescribe the daily AREDS2 formula based on a study done to determine which vitamins are most beneficial for slowing the progression of the disease. This daily supplement contains vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin.
For wet AMD, treatments aimed at stopping abnormal blood vessel growth include FDA-approved drugs called Lucentis, Eylea, Macugen and Visudyne used with Photodynamic Therapy or PDT. These drugs use verteporfin, a light-sensitive medicine that is injected into the eye. Verteporfin “turns on” when hit by the laser used in PDT (sometimes called a cold laser). The laser is shined on a very small area in the back of your eye, causing the verteporfin to break down the blood vessels that are causing your vision loss.
Age-related macular degeneration can be detected early. Yearly eye check-ups can help keep track of development. Be sure to tell your doctor if you notice any signs of blurry or wavy vision, including even after you are diagnosed! At that point, you will be given an Amsler grid (shown below) to look at daily. This will help you monitor any changes in the waviness/blurriness of your vision. If you notice differences, call your doctor immediately.