What is Macular Degeneration?
Various body functions tend to deteriorate as we get older and our eyesight is no exception. There are a number of different things that can affect our vision, but age-related macular degeneration, or AMD or short, is the leading cause of sight loss in the United States. In fact, as many as 11 million people in the U.S. have some form of age-related macular degeneration, and 196 million people in the world are expected to experience AMD by 2020.
What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
As you may have guessed from the name, AMD refers to the degeneration of the macular – an area at the back of the eye that is responsible for your central vision. It also enables you to see finer details in your vision. When the macular becomes damaged, it can be much harder for the sufferer to watch television, read or even recognize faces that you are familiar with. Meanwhile, your peripheral vision (the edges of your sight) is not usually affected.
Although your vision will be affected, it rarely causes total blindness. Many patients manage to cope with the condition using visual aids.
Symptoms of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
There are a number of symptoms of AMD that patients should be aware of. They include the following:
- Difficulty tolerating bright light
- Spots or shadows in your vision
- Straight lines may appear distorted or bent
- Colors seem muted to faded
- Difficulty adapting moving from bright to dark environments
- Objects which appear to change in size or shape when looking at them
- Objects which appear to move when looking at them
- Words that seem to disappear when you are reading
Types of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
There are two different types of age-related macular degeneration. These are referred to as being ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ varieties of AMD.
What is ‘wet’ AMD?
The term wet AMD refers to when the deterioration in vision is caused by abnormal blood vessels growing into the macula. When this happens, they leak blood and/or fluid which causes scarring within the macula and triggers the onset of vision loss, with principally the patient’s central vision affected.
Wet AMD usually develops over a period of weeks or months and the symptoms of the condition follow suit.
What is ‘dry’ AMD?
The term dry AMD basically refers to the type of age-related macular degeneration that doesn’t involve blood vessels or leaking. Instead, the retina naturally deteriorates with age, causing the slow development of symptoms. Dry AMD tends to be more common, but it isn’t unheard of for a patient previously diagnosed with dry AMD to go on to develop the wet version of the condition. This is normally noticeable by a rapid deterioration in your vision.
Why Does Age-Related Macular Degeneration Occur?
It is not known exactly what causes the macular to degenerate other than advancing age. However, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and a family history of AMD are all common factors amongst patients with the condition.
Can Age-Related Macular Degeneration Be Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for dry AMD. Patients tend to learn to manage the condition themselves using a combination of visual aids such as prescription glasses or contact lenses and magnifying glasses. Your eye doctor will be happy to suggest remedies that they believe might be beneficial for you.
If you have wet AMD, you may be referred for regular eye injections or a light treatment known as photodynamic therapy which aims to reduce the blood vessels in the macular that are leaking, thus preventing further damage to your eyesight.
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