Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive eye disease that typically affects patients after the age of 65. There are two types of AMD: dry and wet.
Over 80% of AMD sufferers have the dry form. This form is the one that progresses more slowly and in many patients, particularly in its early stages, does not significantly impact the vision. However, once the disease does progress, unfortunately there is currently no treatment available and so the end stage of the disease can cause quite detrimental effect to the central vision.
The remaining 20% of patients affected have wet AMD. This one tends to come on fairly suddenly and patients will be very aware of any changes to their sight. However, this type of AMD can be treated and so if the disease is caught and treated early enough, the prognosis can be very good for many patients.
But what actually is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is essentially “wear and tear” of the very sensitive, central part of the retina known as the macula. The macula utilises a lot of oxygen as it’s constantly working hard to ensure that each eye has a sharp and focused image. Naturally, over time, just like other bodily functions, the macula can start to slow down at removing its own waste products. These waste products, known as drusen, can start to deposit in the macula region and cause problems to the normal functioning of the eyes.
In dry AMD, as the drusen build up, they can start to starve the macula of oxygen and other essential nutrients and eventually lead to a scar forming over the macula. This then prevents patients from seeing things directly in front of them and can make tasks such as driving, reading and facial recognition much more difficult. Peripheral vision however is generally not affected so patients are still able to get around and see what’s happening around them.
In wet AMD, the deposits cause a chain reaction whereby the eye tries to replenish the oxygen and nutrients. This is done so by producing new blood vessels. Unfortunately, these blood vessels are weak and they can easily leak or rupture causing haemorrhaging and fluid at the site. When this occurs, patients will very quickly notice a reduction or distortion to the central vision of the affected eye.
Risk factors for AMD include:
- Family History/Genetics
- Cardiovascular/Hypertensive Disease
- Long-term UV exposure
What steps can be taken to reduce your risk of getting AMD?
- Stop/cut down smoking
- Protect your eyes from UV e.g. transitions/sunglasses/UV coatings
- Ensure your diet is rich in leafy green veg e.g. spinach/kale
- Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly
NB These tips aim to ensure that we lead a healthy lifestyle and reduce our risk of getting the disease however it is worth bearing in mind that certain factors are out of our control and also contribute to the risk e.g. age and genetics.
What signs to look out for?
- A reduction in vision, particularly your central vision even with your glasses on
- A blurred spot or blank patch in the centre of your vision
- Central distortion/straight lines looking curved or wiggly e.g. a window pane or TV screen edge
If you notice any of these symptoms or you are concerned that you may be at risk of AMD, it is very important that you make an appointment to see your eye health practitioner. They will take a detailed history and carry out all the necessary tests to determine if you do in fact have any signs of the disease. They can then give you the appropriate advice dependant on your individual circumstances.
Header photo courtesy of National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macular_degeneration