Macular degeneration, commonly referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is the single largest cause of sight loss in the developed world and affects more than 10 million Americans. It usually affects people over the age of 60, but has been known to affect those who are younger. It is a painless condition that usually affects both eyes with the loss being experienced in the central vision. It does not affect the peripheral vision, meaning that it does not cause total blindness.
The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina and is responsible for our central vision and what allows us to see fine details with clarity.
Wet AMD is one variety of the condition in which abnormal blood vessels grow into the macula, leaking blood or fluid which then causes scarring and a rapid loss of central vision. Wet AMD can develop suddenly and rapid referral to a specialist is essential as it can be treated if caught quickly.
Dry AMD is the most common variety of age-related macular degeneration and is a gradual deterioration of the retina as the cells die off over time and are not regenerated. Up to 15% of people with dry AMD go on to develop wet AMD.
Macular degeneration affects each person differently, which means that it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose, particularly as you may not notice any change in your vision early on in the condition. However, as the cells deteriorate, you will start to see an increasing range of symptoms, including:
Distortion or bends in what should be straight lines (such as lampposts or door frames)
Dark spots in your central vision
Difficulty adapting from dark to light environments
Objects may appear to change shape, size or color, or may move or disappear
Bright lights may be difficult to tolerate
Words may disappear while you are reading
Unfortunately, there is no clear reason as to what triggers the process that causes macular degeneration. However, you are at an increased risk if you have a family history of the condition, or if you are over 60.
Experts suggest that the best thing you can do to minimize any potential risk is to ensure that you live a healthy, active lifestyle. You can do this by:
Eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables
Moderating your alcohol consumption
Maintaining a healthy weight
Getting regular exercise
There is also some limited research that suggests that eating leafy, green vegetables can slow the deterioration of vision in cases of dry AMD.
Sadly, there is currently no cure for either variety of AMD. In the case of dry AMD, the treatments suggested are done so with the aim of aiding the patient to make the most of their remaining vision. This can include things such as using magnifying glasses to help with reading.
Wet AMD can be treated with anti-vascular endothelial growth factor medication. This should stop additional blood vessels from developing and stop your vision from deteriorating further.
Occasionally, laser therapy is suggested as a possible treatment for destroying abnormal blood cells, but this is only suitable for cases of wet AMD and usually only around 1 in 7 sufferers may be potential candidates for this procedure.