February is macular degeneration awareness month. It is also a good time to bring awareness to this ocular disease and the importance of yearly eye exams. Macular degeneration (MD) is often identified as age-related (AMD), but age is relative when looking at this disease and can occur in younger individuals. However, most individuals affected are over age 50-60. MD is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. It can be broken down into “dry” and “wet” forms.
Dry Macular Degeneration
Dry AMD occurs when drusen, or yellow depots of cellular debris, accumulate under the retina in the back of the eye. A few of these drusen can be a normal effect of aging while an accumulation of these is indicative of AMD. As drusen increase in number, retinal structures may become weak and lead to leaking of fluid or blood beneath the retina. This is when the dry form becomes wet. Both forms can cause central vision loss, with the wet form resulting in more devastating outcomes.
Symptoms of AMD include blurred or loss of central vision, seeing straight lines as wavy or distorted, and color vision changes. Those with intermediate to advanced AMD have difficulty with doing daily activities like reading, writing, driving, or anything requiring good central vision. This can affect their quality of life and independence. Fortunately, there are some treatments and supplements available to help fight vision loss.
Risk factors for AMD include white race, smoking, UV exposure, cardiovascular disease, and having a positive family history. People can reduce their risk by avoiding smoking, wearing sun protection over their eyes, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet with green leafy veggies.
For those patients who are visually impaired from AMD, there are great resources for maximizing what vision they have left. These include specialized glasses, magnifiers, telescopic lenses, reading lamps, large print reading materials, and computers (to name a few). These tools can help people gain independence and live productive, happy lives.
Drusen may not affect your vision, but once identified during an exam can monitor appropriately. Your eye doctor monitors for these changes every time you have a dilated eye exam. If you or someone you know is needing an ocular health evaluation, please reach out to your provider to schedule an exam.