AMD is the gradual loss of central vision as the part of the retina with the highest concentration of photoreceptor cells (the macula, which is responsible for our detailed central vision) deteriorates. After it has progressed to a certain point, AMD can make close-up tasks like writing and reading difficult or impossible. Driving would also become a thing of the past.
Pain is not a symptom of AMD, and the early stages of it don’t always have any symptoms noticeable to the patient. That makes it very easy for the condition to go undetected until it reaches a more advanced stage, especially for patients who never go to the eye doctor unless they need an updated prescription for their glasses. Eventually, as AMD starts to cause vision loss, things begin to look duller or warped, and dark or blurry patches develop in the central vision.
The biggest risk factor for age-related macular degeneration is right in the name: age. Like race and genetics, this isn’t a factor we can control or change. White people are most likely to develop AMD compared to other races, and it’s important to know if your family has a history of AMD. The largest risk factor we can control is smoking, which makes several sight-threatening conditions (AMD included) much more likely.
Dry AMD accounts for up to 9 out of 10 of all cases. It happens when the tissues of the macula become thinner over time while a fatty substance called drusen builds up within it. Dry AMD is less serious than wet AMD, but it can develop into it over time.
In a case of wet AMD, the body tries to repair the retina’s weakening blood supply by growing new blood vessels in the area. The problem is that these new blood vessels aren’t very stable. They’re prone to leaking, leaving the macula scarred and contributing further to vision loss. Wet AMD also progresses faster than dry AMD.
There is currently no cure for AMD, but there’s still a lot we can do to protect our eyesight. There are treatments that can slow the progress of AMD, and building healthy habits in our lives will give our eyes vital tools to protect against sight-threatening conditions. This includes incorporating plenty of carrots, leafy greens, eggs, and fish into our diets, avoiding harmful habits like smoking, and staying active.
The best weapon anyone has against AMD is early detection, and that requires regular eye exams even when we aren’t experiencing negative symptoms. This is particularly important for anyone over fifty (and more so if they have additional risk factors), who should see the eye doctor once a year.