The Leading Cause of Age Related Vision Loss
The center of the eye's retina is called the macula and is responsible for our sharp central vision. A disease of the macula, macular degeneration—ARMD or AMD—is the leading cause of age-related loss of vision in people 65 years of age or older. Macular degeneration is expected to become a larger problem among the aging baby boomers, since the AMD risk increases with age.
The loss of vision from AMD differs from Glaucoma in that AMD is more sudden and the central vision loss is noticed earlier in the progression because it affects the vision we use to read, drive and recognize faces.
With dry macular degeneration, there is no leaky, new growth of blood vessels in the macula, called neovascularization. Up to 90% of patients with AMD have this form of the disease. Someone can have dry AMD for life or it can change quickly to wet AMD. The precise cause of dry AMD converting to wet AMD is not currently known.
The appearance of the macula is how ophthalmologists diagnose dry AMD. As the waste removal system of the eye breaks down, drusen, or small yellow deposits, appear and are a hallmark of the disease. Rods and cones are light sensing cells of the eye and this accumulation of waste can eventually lead to their death. There is no way to replace them once they are gone.
The disease progresses slower in the dry AMD than in the wet form. The vision loss is so gradual that someone with dry AMD may not immediately notice it. Currently, there is no approved treatment for dry AMD. The progression of moderate to advanced AMD may be slowed, however, with supplements of Vitamin C, E and A—beta-carotene—according to a study of age related eye disease.
Wet macular degeneration is more serious since loss of vision can progress quickly. The retina grows new blood vessels within the macula in response to damage from the disease. This is an effort by the eye to remove waste and supply nutrients. These new vessels, however, are defective and leak proteins and blood underneath the retina. This causes more damage by drowning the retina.
Neovascularization is found by a careful exam in the back of the eye, but a diagnosis of wet AMD is not always easy to determine, especially early in the disease. One test is a Fluoroscein Angiography when special dye is injected into a vein in the arm and travels quickly to the eye vessels. There the flow of the dye is detected and the blood vessels that are leaking can be easily seen. There are two different angiography tests and the doctor chooses which one to use for a particular patient.
Support Is Key
A macular degeneration diagnosis does not have to mean the end of the quality of life. A specialist in low vision can help a patient with lifestyle changes and special devices that will help to cope with vision loss. Several specialists such as an occupational therapist, disability and rehab specialists work together to find the best programs and equipment for each individual. A special plan will be made just for the person and they will not use a one size fits all approach. Macular degeneration strikes thousands of people and they are able to find help and have an enjoyable lifestyle while coping with vision loss.