Most of us expect our vision to naturally deteriorate some with advancing age. However, some of us will go on to develop a condition that is the leading cause of serious, permanent vision loss in people over the age of 60 called macular degeneration. Here is what you need to know about this common condition, and what you can expect to happen if you are affected.
Macular degeneration, also referred to as age-related macular degeneration or AMD, is a progressive eye disease that occurs when the central part of your retina, called the macula, begins to degenerate. It is referred to as age-related macular degeneration because this is most likely to happen as part of the aging process. However, although it is uncommon, it can occur in younger patients too.
The retina is located at the very back of the eye and has light-sensitive cells that intercept the light that enters our eyes and converts into a signal that is sent to the brain which tells us what we can see. The macula, which is located near the center of the retina, is responsible for sharp central vision and most of our color vision. When the cells of the macula begin to degenerate, it affects the quality of our vision, causing colors to become faded and making us unable to see in such fine details. Although it doesn’t cause total blindness, it can make some usual day to day activities such as driving, reading, and recognizing people more difficult.
There are two different types of macular degeneration known as ‘wet’ and ‘dry’.
Wet AMD. Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow into the macula itself. These then leak blood or fluid causing scarring of the macula and sudden central vision loss. Wet AMD can develop very quickly, but prompt diagnosis and treatment can preserve your vision.
Dry AMD. More common is dry AMD which is characterized by the slow deterioration of the cells in the macula. This is not to be confused with dry eye syndrome, it is merely referred to as ‘dry’ AMD since it is not the wet kind. Since it develops very slowly, over months or even years, it can take some time before most people realize that they are being affected.
Exactly which symptoms you will experience may vary, but most people with macular degeneration can typically expect to notice one or more of the following:
It is important to note that the symptoms of AMD can affect just one eye, or both.
Unfortunately, in the case of dry AMD, there is no cure for any vision loss that has already occurred. However, there are some treatments that can potentially slow the disease down and help you to maintain your sight for as long as possible. You can also use vision aids to make your day to day living a little easier. These include useful devices such as magnifying lenses and apps that can make cell phones easier to use. You can also make modifications to your home, such as installing brighter lighting. Your eye doctor will be able to help you find the best solutions to help you manage your condition.
If you have wet AMD, there are several treatments available that can help prevent vision loss. These include drugs that are injected directly into the eye to stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels, or laser therapy that is used to destroy the abnormal blood vessels causing your AMD.
If you are concerned about macular degeneration and would like more information, or to schedule an appointment for an eye exam, please contact our offices.