Macular degeneration is a progressive eye disease that affects about 11 million Americans. More appropriately named age-related macular degeneration (AMD) because its onset often comes with advancing years, it’s the leading cause of vision loss — more than cataracts and glaucoma combined.
AMD results from the deterioration of the central part of the retina, the light-sensing tissue located at the back of the eye. This small region (only 2% of the retina’s area) is known as the macula.
Since macular degeneration affects just your central — not your peripheral — vision, it doesn’t cause total blindness. Instead, you see a black spot in the middle of your visual field that prevents you from reading, driving, and even recognizing faces and colors.
Retina Specialists has locations in and around Dallas, Texas, and our expert team of ophthalmologists specializes in diagnosing and treating retinal diseases, including macular degeneration. Our goal is to preserve as much of your vision as possible, improving your quality of life.
Here’s what you need to know about AMD and your risk for developing it.
The breakdown of AMD
The eye functions much like a camera, where the lens bends incoming light and focuses it on the light-sensitive material inside, creating a visible image. When everything works properly, the macula collects the highly detailed information in the spot directly in front of the lens and sends it to the optic nerve. The information then travels to the visual cortex of the brain for decoding.
When the macular tissue breaks down, it can’t record the information properly; what you see is a partial image until that, too, disappears.
AMD comes in dry and wet forms.
Dry macular degeneration (atrophic)
Dry AMD accounts for 85-90% of all cases. In this form, the macula thins and accumulates small deposits of lipids and proteins, known as drusen. Drusen probably don’t cause AMD themselves, but having them may be an early sign you have the disease.
Symptoms of dry AMD include:
- Black spot in central vision
- Blurred vision
- Straight lines look wavy
- Need for brighter lighting
- Difficulty recognizing faces
- Retinal damage
Treatment is usually a course of low vision rehabilitation.
Wet macular degeneration (exudative)
Only 10-15% of all AMD cases are the wet form, and most patients experience the dry form first.
In this form, abnormal blood vessels develop behind the retina and leak fluid into the macula, damaging the cells and leading to scar tissue buildup.
Many of the symptoms mirror the dry form, but you can also experience:
- Blurred central vision
- A dark spot caused by blood vessels that leak fluid
- Rapidly worsening symptoms
Because of the leaky blood vessels, wet AMD progresses faster than the dry form.
Wet AMD patients can also benefit from low vision rehabilitation, as well as from medications that prevent the growth of new blood vessels. These drugs are called anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) medications. They’ve been repurposed from their original use as a treatment for colon cancer, and they’re injected directly into the eye at regular intervals.
It’s important to note that once macular damage has occurred, it can’t be reversed. The medications only prevent future deterioration.
Am I at risk for macular degeneration?
Researchers haven’t been able to pin down an exact cause for AMD, in part because there hasn’t been enough research funding to conduct the necessary trials. What they do know, however, is that the causes are complex, and they most likely include both genetic and environmental factors.
The biggest risk factor for AMD is unquestionably age, showing up most often in men and women 55 and older. Additional risk factors include:
- Being Causasian
- Sustaining a facial/eye injury
- Having a family history of the condition
You can stay on top of the disease by getting regular eye exams, which can catch the symptoms early in the progression.
If you haven’t had a comprehensive eye exam for a while, or if you have any of the risk factors associated with macular degeneration, it’s time to come into Retina Specialists for a checkup. Call us at any of our five locations, or book your appointment online with us today.