SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a prominent cause of incurable blindness in older Americans. AMD is most associated with people aged 55 years and over, with increasing risk beyond 70 years of age. This disease is characterized by a creeping degradation of the retina resulting in deterioration of central vision. Some cases may advance to “wet” AMD, resulting in retinal bleeding and more severe vision loss. Though early “dry” disease may not have symptoms, patients may experience progressive distance and near blur, central blind spots, visual distortions, and difficulty seeing faces and fine detail.
There is no straightforward explanation for the cause of the disease, as there are many contributing factors. Age, genetics, smoking, systemic disease, inflammation, near-sightedness, nutrition, and behavioral factors may all play a role. Unmanaged high blood pressure may incur a three-fold risk to progress from dry to wet AMD. Smoking is a known risk factor for the development of AMD, some studies citing a 2.5x to 4x increased risk.
Macular degeneration can be diagnosed with a detailed patient history and dilated eye exam. Your eye doctor may report the accumulation of drusen, yellow retinal deposits made of lipids and proteins. When drusen accumulates in the retina over time, the body triggers the immune system to attack the drusen and results in permanent cellular damage to the retinal tissue. Retinal photographs and scans may be used to examine changes in number, size, and location of drusen over time.
Although there is no cure for AMD, the latest research shows nutritional supplementation and lifestyle changes may slow progression of the disease. Your doctor may recommend certain dietary supplements and incorporating green leafy vegetables and colorful fruits into your diet. Exercise, quitting smoking, and getting blood pressure and cholesterol under control will also aid in slowing the progression of AMD. Regular eye exams and proper management from an eye care professional can significantly slow the advancement of this debilitating disease.
Written by Dr. Mercedes Smith, Optometrist, Springfield Family Eyecare.