The condition known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that causes central vision loss over time and is a leading cause of blindness in older Americans.
The macula is a component of the eye structure that facilitates our ability to see image detail in our central field of vision.
While AMD has been diagnosed in middle-aged people, the single, greatest risk factor is age; usually affecting folks near the age of 60 and beyond. Overall health also figures prominently and an unhealthy lifestyle can increase the risk of AMD. Links have been established between the onset of AMD and smoking and obesity. There is also a higher occurrence in Caucasians and women as well as in those having a family history of AMD.
Watch for Signs of AMD
If you possess any of the risk factors, it’s important to schedule regular ophthalmic eye exams, especially if you have experienced any changes in your central vision. Your doctor will undertake a comprehensive eye exam to look for signs of the disease. This exam will most likely be comprised of:
- Visual acuity test to measure distance vision
- Dilated eye exam to allow the physician to examine the optic nerve and the retina
- Measurement of pressure inside the eye through a tonometry examination
Physicians may also look for signs of AMD through the use of a visual-based examination known as the Amsler grid. Essentially, the patient is asked to view a grid pattern while covering one eye and staring at a point in the center. If the patient sees wavy lines or no lines at all on parts of the grid these may be indicators of AMD.
Symptoms of AMD
Visual symptoms such as blurry vision, needing more light for reading or any difficulty recognizing familiar images such as a loved one’s face may be attributed to the onset of AMD. When the macula begins to become affected, light-sensitive cells are damaged which results in blurred vision. Central vision loss occurs gradually as the macula ceases to function properly.
A more severe form of the condition is wet AMD, a visual condition where abnormal blood vessels begin to threaten the macula. Central vision loss occurs at a much faster rate with wet AMD and so it is imperative that a comprehensive ophthalmic exam be scheduled immediately.
In the case of wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels begin growing under the macula from behind the retina. Fluid and blood leak from these blood vessels and cause a shift in the normal position of the macula located at the back of the eye structure. They can also cause scarring in this most sensitive part of the eye.
A treatment plan will be based on its classification as either dry AMD or wet AMD and its potential for progression. Scheduling regular eye exams is critically important for anyone with any AMD risk factors because early detection is key to avoiding vision loss.