Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is one of the leading causes of vision loss in patients over the age of 60 in the United States. Since February is AMD awareness month let’s talk a little about the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of this potentially visually devastating condition. The macula is the central part of the retina and if it is damaged central vision becomes impaired. There are two types of AMD, one is “dry” and one is “wet”. Dry AMD comprises roughly 90% of AMD patients and is characterized by thinning of the central retina and deposition of yellow spots (called drusen) in the macula. Although dry AMD is slow to progress and vision loss may be minimal, it can progress to a more intermediate or advanced form of dry AMD which can then progress to wet AMD. Wet AMD happens when abnormal and fragile blood vessels grow underneath the retina and then bleed (this is why it is called ‘wet’) causing destruction of the central vision. Dry AMD has no treatment per se, however there are lifestyle changes that can be taken in order to deter the progression from dry to wet. These lifestyle changes include smoking cessation, UV protection such as sunglasses, and ingestion of nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin in foods such as spinach or kale or in a vitamin supplement. Wet AMD is treated with drugs that are delivered into the vitreous (inner jelly like portion of eye) and go under the the broad umbrella term of “anti-VEGF” agents. Laser treatments and PDT (photodynamic therapy) are other treatments utilized in wet AMD.
Symptoms of macular degeneration include blurry vision, darkening of vision, loss of color vision and visual distortion. Once the central vision is lost, there is no way to restore it and low vision devices such as telescopes and magnifiers can be helpful to maximize the remaining vision. Early detection of AMD is crucial in order to preserve central functional vision which is why yearly eye exams are so important.