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What to Do if You Know You're at Risk for Macular Disease

What to Do if You Know You're at Risk for Macular Disease

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive eye disease that affects about 11 million Americans, most of them older adults. In fact, it’s the leading cause of vision loss in that population — more than cataracts and glaucoma combined. 

AMD occurs when the central part of the retina, the light-sensing tissue located at the back of the eye, starts to degrade. This small, central region (only 2% of the retina’s area) is called the macula.

AMD doesn’t cause total blindness, since it only affects the macula and not the peripheral parts of your vision. However, you see a black spot in the middle of your visual field no matter where you look, preventing you from reading, driving, and even recognizing faces and colors.

The expert team of ophthalmologists at Retina Specialists, with five locations in and around Dallas, Texas, specializes in diagnosing and treating all types of retinal diseases, including macular degeneration. Our aim is to preserve as much of your vision as possible, improving your quality of life. 

If you’re at risk for developing AMD, here’s what you need to know and do.

AMD: How vision breaks down

The eye works a lot like a camera, where a clear lens bends incoming light and focuses it on the light-sensitive material inside. When it’s your eye, the material is the retinal tissue at the back of the eye, especially the macular region, which collects the highly detailed information directly in front of the lens and sends it along to the optic nerve. The information then travels to the brain’s visual cortex.

However, when the macular tissue degrades, it can’t record the information properly; what you see is a partial image surrounding a black spot in the center. In advanced stages, even that partial image disappears.

AMD comes in dry and wet forms.

Dry macular degeneration (atrophic)

Eighty-five to 90% of all AMD cases are of the dry form. Here, the macular tissue thins and accumulates drusen, small deposits of lipids and proteins. Drusen probably don’t cause AMD by themselves, but having them is an early sign you have the disease.

Symptoms of dry AMD include a black spot in your central vision, blurred vision, straight lines appearing wavy, a need for brighter lighting, difficulty recognizing faces, and further damage to the retina.

There’s no cure for AMD. For the dry form, treatment usually consists of 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 before the disease advances to this point. 

Here, abnormal blood vessels develop behind the retina. They leak fluid into the macula and damage the cells, leading to scar tissue build-up. 

While most of the symptoms mirror the dry form, because of the leaky blood vessels, wet AMD causes additional visual disturbances, and it progresses faster than the dry form.

Wet AMD patients also benefit from low vision rehabilitation, but there’s an additional treatment that can help preserve your remaining sight.

Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) medications prevent the growth of new blood vessels. Originally developed to rob colon cancer of its blood supply, these drugs are injected directly into the eye at regular intervals to halt the progression of wet AMD.

An important note: Once macular damage has occurred and vision is lost, the situation can’t be reversed. The anti-VEGF medications can only prevent future deterioration.

Risks for macular degeneration and what to do about it

Researchers don’t know the exact cause of AMD, in part because there's been a lack of funding to conduct the necessary research trials. What they do know, however, is that the causes most likely include both genetic and environmental factors.

The biggest risk factor for AMD is undeniably age. It appears most often in men and women 55 and older. Additional risk factors include:

If you’re at risk, you can stay ahead of the curve by getting regular annual (or semi-annual) eye exams, which can catch the symptoms early in the progression and result in more positive outcomes.

To learn more about macular disease, or to schedule a comprehensive eye exam with one of our providers, call Retina Specialists at any of our five Texas locations (Dallas, DeSoto, Plano, Mesquite, and Waxahachie) with us today.

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