Macular Degeneration: Am I at risk?

Perhaps you have just learned that a family member or loved one has been diagnosed with macular degeneration. If you are like most people, you probably do not know much about the disease or what exactly is going on inside the eye and how it affects vision. Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common eye disease among those 50 years or older, and is the leading cause of vision loss in Americans over 60 years old. Simply put, it is a disease that essentially impairs your central vision due to drusen (yellow deposits) accumulation in the macula, the area of the eye that is in charge of fine, sharp detail. It is a painless, mostly slow progressive condition and the majority of people do not notice vision changes in the beginning and intermediate stages. Yearly comprehensive eye exams will detect macular changes, usually before the disease causes vision loss.

Who is at risk?

  • Smokers- the most prominent/researched risk factor, increases risk by 3-fold
  • Persons over 50 years
  • Those with a family history
  • Caucasians (over any other race)


What can I do to decrease my chances of being diagnosed with AMD?

  • Quit smoking
    • Nicotine increases the amount of free radicals circulating in the blood, which results in the accumulation of oxidative damage (drusen formation) in the macula.
    • Free radicals are highly reactive and the precursor to cancer cells
  • See your optometrist yearly for comprehensive eye exams
    • If macular changes are detected early, there are proven lifestyle changes and vitamins that can slow progression
    • Will stay up-to-date on new research for preventing/detecting AMD
  • Eat healthy and exercise
    • Studies show a decrease risk when blood cholesterol and blood pressure are maintained at healthy levels
    • Eat a healthy diet specifically rich in green, leafy vegetables and fish as well as a diet void of cholesterol (no red meat, eggs, most dairy products)

The news on “eye vitamins”
Results of a 10-year, large scale study called the Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) showed that participants with intermediate staged AMD taking high dose antioxidants and zinc could reduce the risk of advancing to the severe stage of AMD. A vitamin formulation specific to AREDS was released to the public for those patients already diagnosed with AMD. The formulation includes: 500mg- vitamin C, 400 IU-vitamin E, 15 mg-beta carotene, 80 mg-zinc, 2mg-copper. AREDS-2 (a follow up study to the original AREDS) is looking into the effects of adding lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 to the multivitamin.

With a balanced diet, most vitamins and antioxidants required for daily function are easily achieved without supplementation; however the above multivitamin is a high dose formulation for those with AMD. It is important to consult your optometrist before beginning a multivitamin that is formulated for the maintenance of eye health.


Common symptoms of AMD

  • Distorted central vision, specifically straight lines appear wavy
  • Trouble with facial recognition
  • Blind spot in the central vision


Stages of AMD

  • Dry AMD
    • Three stages: mild, intermediate, severe
    • Staging based on the amount and size of drusen in macula
  • Wet AMD- the most severe form
    • Abnormal blood vessels will grow under the macula; these are fragile and will leak fluid, which causes massive swelling/bleeding
    • Can develop at any stage of dry AMD

Treatment options – (Treatment options only exist for patients with wet AMD. For all stages of dry AMD, the goal is to prevent further loss of vision with lifestyle changes and vitamin supplements).

  • Treatment is geared to reduce the bleeding and swelling in the macula
    • Eye injections
    • Laser therapy/surgery

Whether you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed, coping with vision loss from AMD can be a traumatic experience. This can be especially true for those who have just begun to lose vision or have “low vision”. Low vision is a term used to describe patients who have permanent vision loss but can still function on a high level, usually keeping their independence, with the use of vision aids (telescopes, magnifiers, etc). The doctors at Southwest Vision co-manage with low vision specialists in the area in order to provide our patients with the best care possible. We understand the effects of this diagnosis and will spend the necessary time counseling our patients as well as their family members.

As a profession, we are learning more and more about AMD every year. At Southwest Vision, we strive to remain on the forefront of knowledge and technology in order to provide the absolute best care for our patients and their families. If you have any questions concerning the treatment or diagnosis of AMD please do not hesitate to contact our office.

Posted in Eye Disease
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