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As we age, an area of the body we often notice significant change is our eyes. Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that can occur as you age. It blurs central vision as a result of damage to the macula, which controls sharp, straight-ahead vision.
Found in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, the macula is an oval, yellowish area surrounding the fovea which is a small depression of the retina where visual acuity is at its highest.
According to BrightFocus Foundation, a scientific research entity that studies issues of older adults, AMD is a leading cause of irreversible blindness and visual impairment. Approximately 11 million U.S. residents experience some form of AMD.
AMD is irreversible and is the leading cause of vision loss for those 60 and older in the U.S. The longer people live, the risk increases. Because more people are living longer, the number of people in the U.S. living with AMD is expected to double to 22 million by 2050, and to 288 million worldwide by 2040.
When diagnosed, a person will be told if they have the dry or wet form of AMD. With the dry form, light sensitive cells of the macula slowly break down. This is the most common form impacting about 90 percent of diagnosed cases.
Wet macular degeneration accounts for about 10% of the cases, but causes 90% of legal blindness. People who have wet AMD are considered advanced cases, as there is no early or intermediate stage of the disease. However, wet macular degeneration is always preceded by the dry form of the disease.
Your eye doctor will diagnose AMD through a complete eye exam, which generally starts with eye drops to dilate your pupils. He or she will look for a blotchy appearance that is caused by yellow deposits called drusen which form under the retina.
There are various ways of detecting AMD. An Amsler grid can test for defects at the center of one’s vision. AMD may cause the straight lines in the grid to look faded, broken, or distorted.
Fluorescein angiography or indocyanine green angiography tests use injected dye which travels through blood vessels to the eyes. A special camera follows the dye as it travels and shows if there are retinal changes or abnormal blood vessels, which is a sign of wet macular degeneration.
Presently, there is no treatment for dry macular generation, although there are clinical trials in progress. The good news is there are steps that can slow progression. This includes vitamin supplements, eating healthy, and not smoking.
If diagnosed, your doctor may change your prescription, will suggest the use of magnifiers, can direct you to electronic reading aides and voice interface, and can suggest special appliances made for people affected by low vision. Fortunately, most patients with AMD can keep good vision for their entire lives. Even those that lose their central vision will almost always maintain side or peripheral vision.
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