Macular degeneration, or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is caused by the atrophy of the central retina, or macula, which is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye. The macula controls the ability to recognize colors and faces, read a book, drive a car, or distinguish fine details.
AMD is a leading cause of vision loss that affects nearly 5 percent of Americans who are 65 and older. There is no cure for the degenerative eye disease, but an ophthalmologist can help slow the progression of AMD for those who have been diagnosed. There are two types of AMD: wet and dry.
Wet Macular Degeneration
Only 10-15 percent of individuals diagnosed with AMD have wet AMD. In this type of AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina and macula. The new blood vessels may leak fluid and blood, which causes the macula to bulge and to be lifted from it’s normal position. This results in distorted central vision and sometimes a blind spot. Wet AMD can progress quickly and can cause rapid vision loss.
Dry Macular Degeneration
Most cases of AMD (85-90 percent) are categorized as dry AMD because they are not characterized by leaking of fluid or blood. Many people with dry AMD still have central vision but may experience fluctuating vision, difficulty reading or low vision. This type of the disease tends to develop more slowly as the macula gradually thins and dries out. The severity of central vision loss depends on the location and amount of retinal thinning.
Macular Degeneration Diagnosis and Treatment
During an eye exam, an ophthalmologist can perform several tests for AMD. One test, the Amsler grid, allows the doctor to detect any blurry or blind spots in the visual field. Another test is through retinal dilation. Using eye drops, the ophthalmologist dilates the pupil and views the retina through a special lens. If there is any concern, he or she may do a procedure called fluorescein angiography or optical coherence tomography (OCT) to better view the retinal blood vessels.
There is no cure for AMD, but an ophthalmologist can help keep those who are diagnosed up-to-date on new medications and treatments. There are many vitamins and minerals that can help delay the development of dry AMD. Wet AMD can be treated with medication or laser surgery that reduces the number of abnormal blood vessels in the macula (source: American Academy of Ophthalmology).
Yearly eye exams with dilation are the best way to prevent degenerative eye diseases like AMD, glaucoma and cataracts. If you notice changes in your sight, make an appointment with your ophthalmologist for comprehensive testing. One appointment could save your vision!