Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a serious, potentially sight-stealing disease that mainly affects older people. Dr. Richard Soden, executive director of the University Eye Center, provides a closer look at AMD, who’s at risk and how it is treated.
What is age-related macular degeneration?
AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in adults over the age of 50. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.8 million people in the United States have AMD and another 7.3 million are at substantial risk for vision loss from AMD. This eye disease occurs when there are changes to the macula, a small portion of the retina that is located on the inside back layer of the eye. AMD causes a loss of central vision that can occur in two forms: “dry” or atrophic and “wet” or exudative. The signs and symptoms of age-related macular degeneration include a gradual loss of one’s ability to see objects clearly, straight lines that look wavy or crooked and/or a loss of clear color vision.
Who is at the greatest risk for getting AMD?
Caucasians generally have a higher risk of developing AMD than people of other races. Women tend to develop it at an earlier age than men. There is also strong evidence that smoking may cause age-related macular degeneration. Other risk factors may include high blood and a lack of certain nutrients such as zinc and antioxidant vitamins such as A, C and E.
How is AMD treated? What can be done to help people who are living with AMD?
Most people with AMD have the dry form of the disease. Although there is considerable research currently being conducted on the dry form of AMD, there is currently no known medical or surgical treatment for it. The less common, wet form of AMD may respond well to injections that are designed to reduce bleeding that occurs as a result of the disease. In some cases, if it is diagnosed and treated early enough, laser procedures can prove to be an effective treatment.
The good news is that most patients with AMD can benefit greatly from low vision rehabilitation. Few people with AMD are left totally without sight. In fact, most individuals who are classified as “blind” actually have some remaining sight that, thanks to developments in the field of low vision rehabilitation, can be utilized to improve their quality of life. Optometrists who provide low vision rehabilitative services can help a person with AMD gain back the independence and freedom that might have been lost as a result of the disease. People with low vision can be assisted with the use of specialized low vision devices and taught a variety of techniques that will help them perform daily activities with what remaining vision they have.
Researchers have linked eye-friendly nutrients such as lutein/zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc to reducing the risk of certain eye diseases, including macular degeneration.
Dr. Richard Soden is the SUNY College of Optometry’s director of health care development.
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