By Effiemarie H. McGowan, Research Optometrist, U.S. Army Public Health CommandMarch 3, 2015
Age Related Macular Degeneration or Macular Degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that affects thousands of people every year. AMD typically affects patients over the age of 50, but it does not always respect age boundaries. It can affect people that are much younger. AMD is a disease of the macula, which is the part of the eye that is responsible for central vision. This disease occurs when blood vessels in the back of the inside of the eye start to grow abnormally and become leaky, or their growth disrupts the layers of the retina and allows the accumulation of debris, fluid or blood between the layers, which decreases vision. Doctors characterize this disease as a wet form or a dry form and family history, overall health and lifestyle are contributing factors.
Wet AMD is the most visually devastating, but is also the most readily treated. Wet AMD is the abnormal growth of blood vessels from the layers of the eye where the vessels lie toward the inner surface of the retina. Although there is no cure for AMD at this time, current treatments help people maintain vision longer than without treatment. Treatments consist of injections that decrease or prevent new blood vessel growth in the eye. Medications are getting better at helping patients maintain good vision.
Dry AMD can be visually devastating as well, but does not tend to move as aggressively or quickly as wet AMD. Dry AMD is the accumulation of debris between the layers of the retina. Dry AMD can convert to wet AMD at any time. Treatment for dry AMD is usually diet control (eating green and leafy vegetables), vitamin supplementation and lifestyle changes (stop smoking, reduce sun exposure, etc.). These actions cannot cure dry AMD, but they can slow progression of the disease and help to maintain good vision.
To maintain eye health and to reduce the risk of eye disease, one should eat a healthy diet, stay out of the sun or at least wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, stop smoking and get a regular eye exam. There is also a genetic test that is available to assess a patient's risk of developing AMD or if a patient has already been diagnosed with AMD, the test can assess the individual's risk of progression of the disease.
Macular degeneration can be detected during a comprehensive yearly eye exam. For this reason, a comprehensive yearly eye exam is important for those patients over the age of 40, especially those with any family history of the disease. Eye health is a critically important part of the eye exam and doctors can detect many conditions before the patient is aware any problem exists. Early disease detection allows early treatment which results in better outcomes, so even if you feel you have perfect vision and do not need an eye exam, think again.