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Age-Related Macular Degeneration

What is age-related macular degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that affects a person’s central vision. AMD is the most common cause of severe eyesight loss among people age 50 and older. Only the center of vision is affected with this disease. It is rare that people go totally blind from it. But AMD can make it hard to read, drive, or do other daily activities that need fine, central vision.

AMD occurs when the macula is damaged and begins to break down. The macula is located in the center of the retina and provides us with sight in the center of our field of vision. With less of the macula working, central vision begins to get worse.

What causes age-related macular degeneration?

There are 2 main types of AMD. They have different causes:

  • Dry AMD. This type is the most common. Experts don't know what causes it. This happens as the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down. It generally happens in both eyes. It is thought that the age-related thickening of the tissue under the retina helps lead to dry AMD.

  • Wet AMD. This type is less common. It accounts for most severe eyesight loss caused by AMD. Wet AMD happens when new blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the retina. They leak fluid and blood. They can create a large blind spot in the center of the visual field.

Who is at risk for macular degeneration?

Possible risk factors for AMD are:

  • Being a woman

  • Being age 60 and older

  • Smoking

  • Family history

  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension)

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Obesity

  • High blood cholesterol levels

  • Far sightedness

  • High C-reactive protein levels in the blood

What are the symptoms of age-related macular degeneration?

Symptoms may be a bit different for each person. Symptoms may include:

  • Blurry or fuzzy vision

  • Straight lines look wavy

  • Some objects look smaller than they really are

  • Colors look paler than normal

  • A dark, empty area or blind spot is in the center of vision

  • Quick loss of central vision, which is needed for driving, reading, recognizing faces, and doing close-up work

One of the most common early signs of AMD is tiny yellow deposits (drusen) in the retina. It may mean the eye is at risk for more severe AMD. These will be visible to your healthcare provider during an eye exam.

The symptoms of AMD may seem like other eye conditions. Talk with an eye care provider for a diagnosis.

How is age-related macular degeneration diagnosed?

In addition to a full health history and eye exam, your eye care provider may do these tests to diagnose AMD:

  • Visual acuity test. The common eye chart test. It measures how well you see at different distances.

  • Pupil dilation. The pupil is widened with eye drops for a close-up exam of the eye’s retina.

  • Amsler grid. This is used to find wet AMD. You are asked to look at a grid and see if the straight lines in the pattern are missing or look wavy. Both of these may mean you have AMD.

  • Fluorescein angiography. This test is used to find wet AMD. A special dye is injected into a vein in the arm. Pictures are then taken as the dye passes through the blood vessels in the retina. This helps the healthcare provider evaluate if the blood vessels are leaking. It also helps the provider figure out if the leaking can be treated.

How is age-related macular degeneration treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment for wet AMD often includes shots (injections) of medicines into the eye. This is done to stop the growth of the abnormal blood vessels under the macula. These injections are typically painless. Treatment may also include a type of laser surgery. A high-energy beam of light is aimed directly onto the leaking blood vessels. This is done to stop further leaking. But this is often not needed.

Currently there is no treatment for dry AMD. But this does not mean that your sight will definitely be lost. This is particularly true if the AMD affects only one eye. Over time, central vision may be lost or reduced. Generally, the rate of loss is slow. There are nutritional treatment choices that may slow the disease progression.

What are possible complications of age-related macular degeneration?

AMD can result in severe loss of central vision. It is rare that it causes total blindness. But it can make it hard to read, drive, or do other daily activities that need detailed central vision.

Living with macular degeneration

If you have already had some vision loss, talk with your provider. Ask for information on services for people with low vision. Also ask about devices that may help you with your daily tasks.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, call your healthcare provider.

Key points about age-related macular degeneration

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that affects a person’s central vision

  • AMD can lead to severe loss of central vision. It is rare that it causes blindness.

  • It can make it hard to read, drive, or do other things that need fine, central vision.

  • Risk factors include being age 50 and older, being a woman, smoking, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and high cholesterol.

  • There is no cure. But there are treatment choices that may stop or slow the disease progression.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

Online Medical Reviewer: Chris Haupert MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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