What Is Macular Degeneration?
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a problem with your retina. It happens when a part of the retina called the macula is damaged. With AMD you lose your central vision. You cannot see fine details, whether you are looking at something close or far. But your peripheral (side) vision will still be normal. For instance, imagine you are looking at a clock with hands. With AMD, you might see the clock’s numbers but not the hands. AMD is very common. It is a leading cause of vision loss in people 50 years or older.
Two types of AMD
This form is quite common. About 80% (8 out of 10) people who have AMD have the dry form. Dry AMD is when parts of the macula get thinner with age and tiny clumps of protein called drusen grow. You slowly lose central vision. There is no way to treat dry AMD yet.
This form is less common but much more serious. Wet AMD is when new, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina. These vessels may leak blood or other fluids, causing scarring of the macula. You lose vision faster with wet AMD than with dry AMD.
Many people don’t realize they have AMD until their vision is very blurry. This is why it is important to have regular visits to an ophthalmologist. He or she can look for early signs of AMD before you have any vision problems.
Macular Degeneration Diagnosis: How is AMD diagnosed?
During an eye exam, your ophthalmologist may ask you to look at an Amsler grid. This grid helps you notice any blurry or blank spots in your field of vision. Your ophthalmologist will also look inside your eye through a special lens. He or she can see if there are changes in the retina and macula.
Your ophthalmologist will put drops in your eye to dilate (widen) your pupil. This allows him or her to look through a special lens at the inside of your eye.
Your doctor may do fluorescein angiography to see what is happening with your retina. Yellow dye (called fluorescein) is injected into a vein, usually in your arm. The dye travels through your blood vessels. A special camera takes photos of the retina as the dye travels throughout its blood vessels. This shows if abnormal new blood vessels are growing under the retina.
Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is another way to look closely at the retina. A machine scans the retina and provides very detailed images of the retina and macula.
Macular Degeneration Treatment: How is AMD Treated?
Right now, there is no way to treat the dry form of AMD. However people with lots of drusen or serious vision loss might benefit from taking a certain combination of nutritional supplements. A large study found those people may slow their dry AMD by taking these vitamins and minerals daily:
- Vitamin C (500 mg)
- Vitamin E (400 IU)
- Lutein (10 mg)
- Zeaxanthin (2 mg)
- Zinc (80 mg)
- Copper (2 mg)
Your ophthalmologist can tell you if vitamins and minerals are recommended for your dry AMD.
To help treat wet AMD, there are medications called anti-VEGF drugs. Anti-VEGF treatment helps reduce the number of abnormal blood vessels in your retina. It also slows any leaking from blood vessels. This medicine is delivered to your eye through a very slender needle. Laser surgery may also be used to treat some types of wet AMD. Your eye surgeon shines a laser light beam on the abnormal blood vessels. This reduces the number of vessels and slows their leaking. Talk with your ophthalmologist about ways to treat your AMD.