Macular Degeneration also termed as Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a medical condition that may result in blurry vision or loss of vision, in the centre of the visual field. Problems begin with a blurry vision, and when untreated, it may advance to loss of central vision.
AMD usually impacts persons over the age of 50, and early symptoms are hard to identify until damage has already started. If damage has begun, you need to consult macular degeneration specialist to discuss treatment options.
AMD is caused by damage to the central part of the retina called Macula. The Macula is the layer of the eye that records images we see and sends them through the optic nerve from the eye to the brain. The macula is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye and it controls our ability to drive our car, read, recognize colours and faces and see objects in fine detail.
There are two main kinds of AMD: wet and dry. Dry AMD is the thinning and atrophy of the cells at the centre of the retina, the Macula. This is the most common type of AMD and causes a gradual, slow decline of vision over months or years. Early warning signs are usually blurred vision while reading and finding it tough to adjust to the light in dark areas.
Wet AMD is much less common but the loss of vision because of this condition, maybe faster and more evident than the case of dry AMD. It is caused by the development of abnormal blood vessels, growing under the Macula. This causes damage and bleeding from the retina.
Symptoms of wet AMD may include difficulty reading, distortion of straight lines and problems with central vision like recognising faces. In case you notice such symptoms and are over the age of 50, doctors recommend strictly that you consult an eye-specialist to fully judge the situation and consider available options.
Special Symptoms of AMD
- Distorted vision, in which a grid of straight lines appears wavy and parts of the grid may
- look blank. There may be central shadows or missing areas of vision.
- The slow recovery of visual function after being subjected to bright light.
- A drastic decrease in visual acuity.
- A blurred vision which may lead to loss of central vision.
- Trouble discerning colours.
- Loss in contrast sensitivity.
- Flashing lights and other visual hallucinations.
AMD will not by itself lead to complete blindness. In most cases, some vision remains, especially peripheral. Other complicated conditions may lead to acute symptoms like glaucoma or stroke, but few AMD patients experience loss of vision.
The area of the macula of the eye consists of only 2.1 % of the retina and the rest of 97.9% of the peripheral field is not impacted by the disease. Though the Macula offers such a small fraction of the visual field, nearly half of the visual cortex is involved in processing macular information.
The following are the major risk factors of the disease:
- Age: Advanced age is the strongest factor in developing AMD, especially over 50.
- Family history: genes do play a role in this condition.
- Smoking: tobacco increases the risk of AMD by 2 to 3 times.
- Hypertension: elevated Blood Pressure is a cause for the rising risk of late AMD.
- High cholesterol: Rising cholesterol may enhance the risk of AMD.
- Obesity: Abdominal obesity is a risk factor, particularly with men.
- Intake of fats: Consuming more amounts of fats like Trans fats, Omega-6 fatty acids and saturated fats often lead to AMD. But Omega-3 fatty acids and other monounsaturated fats protect the body from AMD.
- Exposure to UV light: Exposure to direct sunlight or UV rays or even blue light from LED’s may enhance your risk for developing AMD.
- Race: It has been found that Caucasians are more likely to develop this condition, compared to Hispanics, Blacks and Asians.
Stages of AMD
There are 3 stages in AMD:
- Early AMD: In this stage, most people are not aware of symptoms. Hence regular eye exams are necessary, especially if you have more than one risk factor. Early AMD is diagnosed by the presence of moderate amounts of Drusen (yellow deposits beneath retina).
- Intermediate AMD: In this stage, there may be some vision loss, but symptoms are not still noticeable. A comprehensive exam of the eye with particular tests will ascertain whether there is many drusen or pigment changes in the retina.
- Late AMD: At this stage, the patient becomes aware of vision loss.
There is no cure for AMD. But symptoms can be controlled by making lifestyle changes like avoiding eye exposure to UV light, following a balanced diet, controlling obesity, proper exercise and avoiding smoking. It is also important to have an early diagnosis of the disease. Wet AMD has been treated with drug injections to control the growth of blood vessels, photodynamic therapy and laser surgery. As for dry AMD, a combination of Zinc, vitamins and Anti-oxidant formulation has been attributed to help in case of intermediate and late AMD. Use of magnifying devices can enhance vision in those with AMD.
These are all reasons why you need to consult the macular degeneration specialist.