Macular degeneration is an age-related disorder where a portion of the retina (back of the eye) called the macula deteriorates and reduces central vision.
Also referred to as AMD, ARMD, or age-related macular degeneration, this condition interferes with the ability to read and drive and is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in the United States for persons 65 years and older. Peripheral vision is not affected by macular degeneration.
Types of Macular Degeneration
Neovascular refers to formation of blood vessels in areas where they should not form.
Dry or Non-Neovascular
The most common and less severe form of macular degeneration is non-neovascular and it is also the early stages of the disease. In dry AMD, tissues thin and deposits of pigment form in the macula. Yellowish spots call drusen are first noticed during examination of the eye. Drusen is evidence of the deteriorating macular tissue.
Wet or Neovascular
Neovascular macular degeneration is the more advanced and damaging stage of the disease. Erroneously, the body attempts to form new blood vessels to save the macula in the dry (non-neovascular) stage of the disease. However, these vessels that form beneath the retina, leak fluid and blood causing scarring and permanent damage to the retina. Partial or total central vision loss is usually experienced in this stage.
Causes of Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is an age-related deterioration disorder. Studies indicate that a gene deficiency may be a contributing factor. Greater associated risks for developing AMD include:
- Caucasian females
- Inherited tendencies
- Cigarette smoking
- High blood pressure
- Light eye color
- Ultraviolet (sun) light exposure
- High fat diet
Signs and symptoms
Macular degeneration is a gradual and painless disorder. Routine eye exams are necessary to avoid complete vision loss. Early warning signs of AMD include:
- Central vision shadows
- Fuzzy or distorted vision
- Sudden loss of central vision
Currently there are no treatment options for dry macular degeneration. However, many studies suggest that high levels of antioxidants, beta carotene, vitamins C and E and zinc can significantly reduce the risk of progression from dry to wet macular degeneration.
A simple grid called the Amsler grid can be used at home to monitor and detect any subtle changes in your vision. If you have AMD, the procedures to use the grid will be discussed with you in your eye examination.
Low vision aids such as high magnification reading glasses and hand-held telescopes can improve the quality of your vision and lifestyle.
Angiogenesis inhibitors are used to treat wet macular degeneration and there are several brands of these prescription medications on the market that can be discussed with you during your eye examination. These medications reduce abnormal blood vessel growth and can prevent or delay vision loss.
This procedure uses high energy laser heat to seal and destroy abnormal leaking blood vessels. Repeat treatments are required for new blood vessel growth. Side effects include mild pain, reduced vision and scarring of the retina.
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
This procedure uses a low intensity, non-thermal (cold) laser that destroys the abnormal blood vessel formation. PDT can help stabilize vision but it will not improve or restore lost vision. Treatments are typically required quarterly to treat re-growth. Side effects include headaches and possible blurred or reduced vision.
Annual eye exams can help delay or prevent the onset of advanced macular degeneration. Call our office at 425.822.8253 to schedule an appointment if you have not been examined within the last 12 months, if you are experiencing any increased vision problems or to discuss your low vision options.