Age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of blindness among people over 65 years of age. Currently, approximately 1.75 million people suffer vision loss from this progressive disease in the U.S. alone, and that figure is rising every year. While there is no cure for macular degeneration, early diagnosis and treatment can slow its progression, delaying vision loss significantly.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is the deterioration of the part of the retina that is involved with sharp central vision, called the macula. The damage that occurs to the macula as result of AMD causes vision loss at the center of the field of vision. There are two basic forms of the disease, wet macular degeneration and dry. Dry macular degeneration is the most common, occurring in approximately 85 to 90 percent of AMD cases, and is the milder form, causing a slow, gradual loss of vision as compared to wet AMD, in which a patient can lose vision rapidly.
Causes and Risk Factors
Age-related macular degeneration is a disease that has been primarily associated with aging. However, scientists have determined that there is a genetic component to AMD as well, which has likely played a role in nearly three-quarters of all cases. Other risk factors for AMD include obesity, inactivity, high blood pressure and smoking. People with lighter eye colors may have a higher risk of AMD, and certain medications can play a role in the development of the disease, including some antipsychotic medications and malaria drugs.
Signs and Symptoms
Routine testing and examination by an eye care professional is the surest means of detecting AMD. However, between those visits, signs and symptoms of AMD to watch for include an increasing need for bright lighting for reading, difficulty adapting to low light levels, a blurred or blind spot at the center of the field of vision and a gradual increase in haziness or blurring in overall vision.
Vision loss due to AMD cannot be reversed. However, early detection and treatment can slow the progression of the disease significantly. For this reason, it is essential for people over the age of 50 to know and watch for the signs of AMD and see their eye care provider regularly for comprehensive eye exams, increasing the odds of detecting macular degeneration before vision loss begins.