Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD): Understanding and Managing Vision Loss
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects approximately 11 million people in the United States, making it a leading cause of vision loss in individuals over 60 years old. By 2050, this number is expected to double, reaching nearly 22 million.
The risk of developing AMD increases with age, rising from 2% for those aged 50-59 to nearly 30% for individuals over 75.
While a cure for macular degeneration is not currently available, our experienced doctors can help you effectively manage the condition using advanced treatments such as injections and lasers. In some cases, these treatments can even restore lost vision.
Understanding Macular Degeneration:
The macula, located in the central part of the retina, plays a crucial role in our vision. It enables us to see fine details, recognize faces, read, and enjoy color vision. Light rays from whatever we're looking at are focused on the macula, allowing us to perceive clear and sharp images.
Macular degeneration occurs when the central part of the retina deteriorates. This inner layer of the eye records the images we see and sends them to the brain. When the macula is healthy, it captures highly detailed images and transmits neural signals to the brain, resulting in clear sight. However, when the macula deteriorates, the brain receives blurry or distorted images, leading to vision loss.
Types of Macular Degeneration:
There are two main types of macular degeneration: "dry" and "wet." Roughly 85% to 90% of individuals with macular degeneration have the dry (atrophic) form, which can progress to the wet (exudative) form.
Stargardt disease is another type of macular degeneration that primarily affects young people. It is caused by a recessive gene and occurs in approximately 1 in 10,000 individuals.
Dry vs. Wet Macular Degeneration:
- Dry (atrophic) macular degeneration: This type is characterized by the accumulation of yellow deposits called drusen beneath the retina, causing retinal distortion. While small drusen may not affect vision significantly, larger ones can lead to dim or distorted vision, particularly during reading. As dry AMD progresses, the light-sensitive cells in the macula further deteriorate and eventually die, resulting in blind spots in the central vision.
- Wet (exudative) macular degeneration: In this form, abnormal and fragile blood vessels form beneath the retina. These vessels leak blood and fluid into the retina, causing distorted vision and the appearance of wavy lines. As the blood vessels continue to bleed, they create scars that can cause partial or complete loss of central vision.
By undergoing regular check-ups with your eye doctor, AMD can be diagnosed early, allowing for effective management and the prevention of further vision loss.
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration:
During the early stages of AMD, symptoms may not be noticeable. By the time significant symptoms appear, irreversible damage may have already occurred. Common symptoms include:
- Decreased or blurry vision
- Dark or blind spots in the center of vision
- Wavy appearance of straight lines
- Altered color perception
Stages of Macular Degeneration:
AMD can be classified into three stages:
- Early AMD: Medium-sized drusen deposits and no pigment changes. At this stage, most people experience no vision loss.
- Intermediate AMD: Presence of large drusen and/or pigment changes. Mild vision loss may occur, but daily tasks are generally unaffected.
- Late AMD: Noticeable vision loss has occurred.
Eye Exams for Detecting AMD:
To detect macular degeneration, your eye doctor will conduct a comprehensive eye exam, which may include:
- Dilated Eye Exam: Eye drops are used to dilate the pupil, allowing the doctor to examine the macula, detect drusen, or identify abnormal blood vessels.
- Ophthalmoscopy: The doctor uses a handheld light to examine the retina and macula for any damage or changes.
- Fluorescein Angiography: A dye is injected into the bloodstream to detect any leakage from blood vessels in the retina.
- Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT): This non-invasive test provides cross-sectional images of the retina, allowing for detailed examination of the macula, optic nerve, retina, and choroid.
- Amsler Grid: A self-examination tool used at home to detect sudden blurry or blank spots in the field of vision. Any changes should be reported promptly to your eye doctor. However, this should not replace regular yearly eye exams.
By visiting your eye doctor regularly and undergoing comprehensive eye examinations, AMD can be detected in its early stages when treatment is most effective. While a cure for AMD is not available, treatments can slow down the progression and potentially restore some lost vision. Contact our doctors to discuss the best treatment plan and learn how to manage your AMD effectively.
Our practice proudly serves patients from The Woodlands, Magnolia, Shenandoah, Tomball, and the surrounding communities, providing exceptional eye care and personalized solutions.