By Dr. Mark S. Siegel
Macular degeneration is a major cause of irreversible vision loss in the United States and around the world. As many as 11 million Americans have some form of macular degeneration. To observe Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Awareness Month, Sea Island Ophthalmology is offering tips for prevention, early detection, and treatment of the condition.
Facts about Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
The number of people living with any form of macular degeneration is similar to that of those who have been diagnosed with all types of invasive cancers.
As many as 11 million people in the United States have some form of AMD. This number is expected to double by 2050.
AMD is the result of deterioration of a central area of the retina called the macula, which is the location of central vision. This deterioration can make vision become blurry or wavy. It can also result in a blind spot in the center of your vision.
Age is a major risk factor for developing AMD. Other risk factors include: a history of smoking, hypertension, and family history. AMD is more common among women and Caucasians but is seen among all races.
There are two types of AMD: dry (atrophic) and wet (neovascular or exudative). Most AMD starts as the dry type and in 10-20 percent of individuals, it progresses to the wet type.
Age-related macular degeneration is always bilateral (i.e., occurs in both eyes), but does not necessarily progress at the same pace in both eyes. It is therefore possible to experience the wet type in one eye and the dry type in the other.
Tips for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Prevention and Treatment
If you have a family history of AMD, get a comprehensive dilated eye exam yearly after the age of 50.
AMD occurs less often in people who exercise, avoid smoking, and eat nutritious foods including green leafy vegetables and fish. If you already have AMD, adopting these habits may help you keep your vision longer.
Although some vision loss from AMD is irreversible, effective treatments can slow down progression or in some cases reverse vision deterioration.
Nutritional supplement formulations containing antioxidants and zinc (studied in the AREDS and AREDS2 clinical trials) have been shown to slow the disease in those who have intermediate AMD and those with advanced AMD in only one eye.
Anti-VEGF injections (medication specifically aimed at stopping the progression of the abnormal blood vessels that cause the vision loss) are an effective treatment for the wet or neovascular form of AMD and may control or reverse vision loss if administered shortly after the onset of vision loss. Early recognition of vision change, evaluation by an ophthalmologist, and starting proper medical treatment may be sight-saving.
Anti-Complement treatments and Stem cell therapies are promising treatments for the advanced dry form of AMD, which are being studied in multiple clinical trials.