Eye Health: Understanding Age-Related Macular Degeneration

by Zeina Haddad, M.D.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common eye condition and a leading cause of vision loss in adults aged 50 and over. Age-related macular degeneration happens when a part of the retina called the macula is damaged. Although there may be no symptoms in the early stages, a damaged macula causes you to lose your central vision and the ability to see fine details, whether you are looking at something close or far. But your peripheral (side) vision will still be normal. For instance, imagine you are looking at a clock with hands. With AMD, you might see the clock’s numbers but not the hands. 

There are two forms of macular degeneration: dry and wet.

Dry AMD is quite common. About 80% (8 out of 10) of people who have AMD have the dry form. Dry AMD is when parts of the macula get thinner with age and tiny clumps of protein called drusen grow. You slowly lose central vision. At this time, there is no way to treat dry AMD.

Wet AMD is when new, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina. These vessels may leak blood or other fluids, causing scarring of the macula. You lose vision faster with wet AMD than with dry AMD. Intraocular injections are used to treat wet AMD.

Many people don’t realize they have AMD until their vision is very blurry. This is why it is important to have regular visits to an eye care professional. He or she can look for early signs of AMD before you have any vision problems.

During an eye exam, you will be asked to look at an Amsler grid. This grid helps you notice any blurry or blank spots in your field of vision. Your eye doctor will also look inside your dilated eye through a special lens that allows them to see if there are changes in the retina and macula. 

Your doctor may do fluorescein angiography to see what is happening with your retina. This test shows if abnormal new blood vessels are growing under the retina. 

Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is another way to look closely at the retina. A machine scans the retina and provides very detailed images of the retina and macula. 

AMD Treatment

Currently, there is no way to treat dry AMD. However people with lots of drusen or serious vision loss might benefit from taking a specific high-dose formula of antioxidant vitamins and zinc, called AREDS. A large study found taking AREDS may slow dry AMD.

To help treat wet AMD, there are medications called anti-VEGF drugs. Anti-VEGF treatment helps reduce the number of abnormal blood vessels in your retina. It also slows any leaking from blood vessels. This medicine is delivered to your eye through a very slender needle.

Laser surgery may also be used to treat some types of wet AMD. Your eye surgeon shines a laser light beam on the abnormal blood vessels, reducing the number of vessels and slowing their leaking.

There are some choices that you can make to safeguard your eyesight from AMD. Although you cannot always prevent the development of AMD, you can make some daily changes in your habits and choices.

  • If you smoke, stop
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins
  • Protect eyes from overexposure to sunlight with sunglasses and hats

The most important decision to you can make is to visit your eye doctor regularly for comprehensive eye exams. An eye exam is an essential component of eye disease prevention and can be a helpful assessment tool for whole-body wellness.

Dr. Haddad is an ophthalmologist specializing in diseases of the retina and vitreous. For more information on Age-Related Macular Degeneration and other services offered by Carolina Eye, call (800) 733-5357 or visit www.carolinaeye.com