Can you imagine how your life would change if one day you could not see the faces of your family, read the mail, or see to dial a telephone? It is estimated that 1.75 million Americans currently have advanced macular degeneration making it the leading cause of blindness in those over the age of 65.
Macular degeneration, or AMD, is a disease associated with aging that destroys a person’s sharp, central vision. Light sensitive cells in the macular region of the retina break down creating a blur and distortion in the affected eye. This “dry AMD” is a gradual process and accounts for 90% of all AMD. For some, the condition progresses to “wet AMD” in which fragile blood vessels grow beneath the macula and bleed. This “wet AMD” causes quick and dramatic vision loss.
Who is most at risk? The greatest risk factor is age, but smoking, obesity, and a family history also increases a person’s risk for developing AMD. Some researchers believe over exposure to sunlight may also contribute.
As of today no FDA approved treatments exist for dry AMD; however, according to the AREDS study, certain nutrients such as zinc, lutein, and vitamins A, C, and E may help lower a person’s risk or slow down progression of the disease by as much as 25%. For wet AMD, treatments are aimed at stopping abnormal blood vessel growth. These include injections of medication, laser surgery, or PDT, where an injected drug is light-activated to destroy fragile blood vessels.
Although much progress has been made in AMD research, complete recovery of vision lost is unlikely. A yearly dilated eye examination is important in detecting the signs of AMD. Your doctor may suggest nutritional supplements or a grid to be used daily to monitor your vision. For those with considerable vision loss, certain magnifiers, telescopes and aids may provide clearer vision.
Fifteen million Americans live with some form of AMD. With over 200,000 new cases each year, we know that early detection is the best defense so ask your eye care professional if you are at risk or show signs of the disease. Together you can be prepared.