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Age-Related Macular Degeneration What It Is and What You Can Do

March 29, 2018

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is responsible for vision loss in more than 10 million Americans, more than those affected by cataracts and glaucoma combined.

AMD is an incurable eye disorder characterized by the deterioration of the central area (the macula) of the retina deep within the eye where images are conveyed through the optic nerve to the brain. In its more advanced stages, vision loss is characterized by the loss of central vision (the object of focus is acutely blurred) while clarity of peripheral vision remains unaffected.

There are two different kinds of AMD: wet and dry.

Dry AMD is characterized by painless, gradual visual distortion. About 85% to 90% of AMD cases are of the “dry” (atrophic) type.

Wet AMD, which is far less common, can cause rapid vision loss. While only 10-15% of AMD cases are of the “wet” (exudative) type, they account for 90% of serious vision loss.

Your eye doctor can detect AMD with a retinal exam even before you may experience any visual distortion. (It is easy early on for patients with the dry type not to register the change in their eyesight, since the condition develops slowly, and because one eye is typically more progressed than the other, making it difficult for the patient to self diagnose without the use of an Amsler grid). 

The Amsler grid is a diagnostic image with crossing lines and a dot in the center. Distortion perceived by the patient in the grid pattern can indicate possible AMD, and once confirmed, other tests may be administered, including retinal photographs, Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) or Fluoroscein Angiography (FA) to determine if the condition is of the wet or dry type and the degree of its progression.

There are three stages of AMD:

  • Early AMD – Vision loss is rare in this state, making  regular eye exams critical, especially if you are over 55 or have a family history of this disease.
  • Intermediate AMD – Symptoms may still not be noticeable as this stage, even though vision may be somewhat compromised.
  • Late AMD – Vision loss becomes noticeable at this stage.

While AMD is currently incurable, there are things you can do to decrease your chances of developing it, including quitting smoking (those who smoke have a 50% greater chance of developing AMD), eating a diet rich in fibrous vegetables, and exercising.

In his book SuperHealth: 6 Simple Steps, 6 Easy Weeks, 1 Longer, Healthier Life, opthamologist and author Dr. Stephen Pratt writes, “The benefits of exercise have been proven to go far beyond controlling your weight – from boosting your immune system to preventing and/or slowing the progression of diseases like cancer, degenerative eye disease, and dementia.”

In fact, the now widely cited Beaver Dam Study looked at the relationship between exercise and AMD. 3,874 men and women between the ages of 43-86 years were recruited for this study and followed for fifteen years. The study found that those with an active lifestyle (walking three times or more a week), were 70% less likely to develop AMD than those who were mostly sedentary. (Which is great news, because it means there are preventative steps you can take when it comes to caring for your vision health!)

At OCLI we’re full-service vision health providers who can help you with all of your eyecare needs, including screenings for AMD.  Our retinal specialist, Dr Benjamin Freilich specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of macular degeneration.   Give us a call today and see why we’re known as being the friendliest, most comprehensive, and most advanced eye care providers around!

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