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Age Related Macular Degeneration

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness among Americans over the age of 65. An estimated 1.75 million Americans are affected by AMD and this number is only expected to increase, with up to 3 million cases anticipated in 2020.   AMD is a breakdown of the delicate cells of the macula, which is located in the center of the retina of the eye.  The macula is responsible for the central vision, which controls the amount of detail you can see. Its onset can be very gradual and it is very easy for many people to ignore the early symptoms of blurriness and distortion of the central vision.  The macula is responsible for important everyday functions that you probably take for granted, like reading or driving.  The impact on one’s quality of life is drastic. 

There are two forms of macular degeneration: the non-neovascular or “Dry” form and the exudative or “Wet” form.  The dry form is much more common than the wet form, occurring in about 90% of all cases, and occurs due to ageing and thinning of the macular tissues.  Yellowish spots called drusen begin to form in the macula and are one of the first signs of early dry macular degeneration.  Gradual loss of vision occurs without proper preventive care. 

The wet form of AMD is much more detrimental to the eye than the dry form. The wet form of AMD presents in about 10% of all AMD cases.  Essentially, new blood vessels start growing underneath the retina, which in turns causes blood and fluids to seep where they do not belong, causing scarring and blind spots in the central vision. 

Prevention and early detection are key in treating wet AMD.  There are a number of ways to detect the onset of AMD at your ophthalmologist’s office.  New imaging technology creates 3D maps of the eye and allows physicians to catch wet macular degeneration earlier than ever before.  An easy way to test yourself for early onset AMD is with an Amsler Grid, which is simply a grid of straight lines with a center point.  If the lines appear to bend, are less than symmetric, or if part of the grid seems to be missing, please consult with your eye doctors as soon as you can.

Symptoms and risk factors of AMD include age (those over age 65 are especially susceptible), obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, genetics, hypertension, and smoking.  Women exhibit a higher tendency to AMD than men, and research suggests there is a higher incidence of AMD in Caucasians than in other races. 
 
Luckily, more treatment options are now available for macular degeneration than ever before.  For all patients with macular degeneration, smoking cessation is recommended.  Sunglasses should be worn to limit UV exposure to the eyes, which may contribute to AMD.  Research indicates that Vitamin A (beta carotene), Vitamin C, and Vitamin E may slow or even prevent AMD, so a healthy diet rich in these vitamins may play a vital role in saving your vision. Your physician can recommend specific vitamin supplements, which are proven to slow the progression of macular degeneration. Early detection and prevention of AMD is crucial to saving your vision, so please make sure that you visit your eye care specialist regularly to ensure that you will be able to maintain your desired quality of life. 

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