What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in people over 65 years old in the United States. The condition causes loss in the center of the field of vision.

In dry macular degeneration, the center of the retina deteriorates. With wet macular degeneration, leaky blood vessels grow under the retina.

Blurred vision is a key symptom. Some people experience distorted vision and “photo-stress response” like snow blindness or sun blindness as a reaction to bright light.

The wet form of macular degeneration is sometimes treatable with laser surgery. A new form of treatment called photodynamic therapy (PDT) has recently become available, and early detection is vital to maximize chances of effective treatment. Rest assured, Swagel Wootton Eye Institute is on the leading edge of technology and treatment.

What are the Symptoms of Macular Degeneration?

  • In its earliest stages, AMD may cause little, if any, noticeable change in vision
  • Difficulty reading without extra light and magnification
  • Objects appear distorted or blurred, or abnormal in shape, size or color
  • Abnormality, where straight lines appear wavy
  • Difficulty seeing clearly enough to read or drive
  • Inability to see details
  • Blind spot in center of vision

Who is at Risk for Developing AMD?

While the causes of macular degeneration are unclear, there are a few constants. For example, statistically, women are at a slightly higher risk than men, and Caucasians are more likely to develop macular degeneration than African Americans.

Interestingly, macular degeneration appears to be hereditary in some families but not in others. You are at an increased risk if you have experienced long-term sun exposure, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, nutritional deficiencies or if you have suffered from a head injury or infection. Smoking also increases the risk of developing macular degeneration.

How is AMD Diagnosed?

Regular eye exams are important for many reasons. But they are particularly important in determining if you are at risk for macular degeneration as early detection may increase the chance of effective treatment.

The doctors at Swagel Wootton Eye Institute can identify changes in the macula by looking into your eyes with various instruments. Also, a chart, known as an Amsler Grid, can be used to pick up subtle changes in your vision.

Angiography is the most commonly used diagnostic tool for checking for macular degeneration. During the test, a harmless red-orange dye called Fluorescein will be injected into a vein in the arm. The dye will travel through the body, making its way to the blood vessels in the retina. A highly-calibrated camera will take photographs and the pictures will be analyzed to identify atypical new blood vessels or damage to the retina’s lining. The formation of new blood vessels from blood vessels in and under the macula is often the first physical sign that macular degeneration may develop.

How is AMD Treated?

Much of the time, low vision evaluation and rehabilitation can improve function in individuals affected by macular degeneration. In the early stages of macular degeneration, regular eye exams, attention to diet, in-home monitoring of vision and taking specific nutritional supplements, when necessary, may be all that is recommended.

There is promising research on the use of vitamins and nutritional supplements called antioxidants to prevent or slow down the progression of macular degeneration. Antioxidants are thought to protect against the damaging effects of oxygen-charged molecules called free radicals. A potentially important group of antioxidants called carotenoids are the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their color. Two carotenoids that occur naturally in the macula are lutein and zeaxanthin.

Some research studies suggest that people who have diets high in lutein and zeaxanthin may have a lower risk of developing macular degeneration. Kale, raw spinach and collard greens are vegetables with the highest amount of lutein and zeaxanthin, and nutritional supplements that are high in these and other antioxidants are also commercially available.

In some cases of wet macular degeneration, laser treatment may be recommended. This involves the use of laser light to destroy abnormal, leaking blood vessels under the retina. This treatment is only possible when the abnormal blood vessels are far enough away from the macula that it will not damage it. When laser treatment is a possibility, it may slow or stop the progression of the disease. It is not expected, however, to bring back any vision that has already been lost.

A relatively new type of treatment for some cases of wet macular degeneration is called photodynamic therapy, or PDT. In those cases where PDT is appropriate, slowing of the loss of vision and sometimes even improvement in vision is possible.

If you are over the age of 65, you should have an annual ophthalmologic examination at Swagel Wootton Eye Institute. Our experienced ophthalmologists can tell you whether you show any signs of age-related macular degeneration.