AMD, or age-related macular degeneration, is a leading cause of vision loss for Americans age 50 and older. It affects central vision, where the sharpest vision occurs, causing difficulty in conducting daily tasks such as driving, reading, and recognizing faces. Central vision becomes distorted and wavy. Peripheral, side, vision remains clear. Age is a prominent risk factor for age-related macular degeneration. The risk of getting AMD increases from 2% for those ages 50-59 to nearly 30% for those over the age of 75.
The most common form of AMD is “dry” AMD. This is caused by the appearance of small yellow deposits called drusen, which form under the retina (the sensor of the camera in the back of the eye). These are accumulated waste products of the retina, which can grow in size and stop the flow of nutrients to the retina. This will cause the retinal cells in the macula that process light to die, causing vision to become blurred and distorted. This form of the disease usually worsens slowly. Currently, the only treatment for dry AMD, which in many people show no symptoms or loss of vision, is dietary vitamin and other supplements. A study has found that a certain combination of vitamins (vitamins C and E, lutein, zeaxanthin, and zinc), known as AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease Study) vitamins, can slow the progression of dry AMD in people with a moderate level of disease. However, these vitamins do not cure AMD.
“Wet” AMD generally causes more rapid and more serious vision loss. In this form of the disease, tiny new blood vessels grow under and into the retina. These blood vessels are fragile and often break and leak, causing a loss of vision.
The key to slowing or preventing vision loss is regular eye exams. People age 50 or older should get a complete eye exam and follow-up with eye exams every year or as indicated by the eye doctor. Smokers, those with a family history of macular degeneration, and patients with heavy sunlight exposure are also at higher risk for developing AMD. It is important to maintain a routine schedule of eye exams even if there are no noticeable vision problems.
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