Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the slow loss of central vision due to the deterioration of the macula, the part of the retina with the highest concentration of photoreceptor cells and the part that gives us our detailed central vision. Beyond a certain point, AMD can make it difficult or impossible to perform close-up tasks like reading or writing. It would also be incredibly unsafe to drive.
AMD doesn’t come with a clear warning sign like pain. The early stages may not have any symptoms noticeable by the patient, making it easy to remain undetected until the advanced stages. This is a particular risk for patients who never see an eye doctor unless they need a glasses prescription update. As AMD begins to cause vision loss, things can look warped or dull, and dark, blurry patches can develop in the central vision.
As indicated by the name, age is the biggest risk factor of AMD, and, along with race and genetics, it’s not a factor we can change or control. Compared to other races, white people are most at risk of developing AMD, and you should find out if AMD runs in your family. One risk factor we can absolutely control is smoking, which greatly increases the risk of AMD.
9 out of 10 cases of AMD are dry AMD, which happens when the tissues of the macula thin over time while drusen (a fatty substance) builds up within it. This is a less serious form of AMD, but it can eventually progress into wet AMD.
Wet AMD has something in common with diabetic retinopathy: the body attempts to repair the retina by growing new blood vessels to strengthen the blood supply, but these new blood vessels are unstable and prone to leaking. They leave the macula scarred and contribute to vision loss. This form of AMD progresses faster than dry AMD.
Currently, there is no cure for AMD, but it is possible to slow its progress and protect your eyesight. A healthy lifestyle is incredibly important. Getting the right nutrition by eating things like carrots, leafy greens, eggs, and fish, gives our eyes the building blocks they need to stay healthy, and staying active and avoiding harmful habits like smoking also help.
Early detection is the most important defense against vision loss from AMD and the only way to get it is with regular eye exams, even in times when you aren’t experiencing any symptoms of an eye problem. In particular, anyone over the age of 50 should make it a priority to schedule yearly eye exams.