Are There Warning Signs with Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Did you know that the most common reason that people over 50 lose their vision is a condition called age-related macular degeneration (AMD)? AMD occurs when the macula becomes damaged, leading to problems with your vision. 

The macula is the part of your eye that controls sharp, central vision. The macula is also part of the retina.

Because of how vital the retina is to your vision, significant damage to the macula can cause vision loss. There also don’t tend to be warning signs of the condition before vision loss can occur. 

Due to the nature of the retina and the fact the cells in the retina can’t regenerate, this vision loss is irreversible. This means it’s essential to have regular eye exams and understand your risk for AMD. 

It’s one of the only ways to save your vision if you have age-related macular degeneration. Keep reading to find out if there are any warning signs of age-related macular degeneration to watch out for! 

What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

diagram of macular degeneration

The macula is a part of the retina, the thin membrane at the back of the eye. The retina contains photoreceptor cells that receive the light that passes through your eye and then sends impulses through the optic nerve to your brain to be processed as images. When these cells are damaged, they cannot perform this function, leading to gaps in your vision.

Since the macula is at the center of the retina, AMD affects the center of your vision. Patients with advanced AMD may not have any central vision at all. 

They may find that they have to rely on their peripheral vision, which can be severely limiting. However, if caught early and monitored, patients with AMD may be able to preserve their central vision for longer. 

Since there are no early symptoms in AMD, this means you must see an eye doctor regularly for a routine eye exam. By having regular routine eye exams, your eye doctor can identify any signs of age-related macular degeneration. If you’re 60 or older, you should see your eye doctor at least once a year, if not more.

There are two kinds of AMD: wet and dry. 

Dry AMD is more common and occurs when tiny yellow deposits, called drusen, form in the macula. The macula gradually thins out in that area of the retina. 

Dry AMD tends to be mild and progresses very slowly. Wet AMD, on the other hand, is less common but more aggressive. 

It occurs when blood vessels under the retina grow abnormally and begin to swell and leak. The swelling and leaking of the new, weaker blood vessels cause scarring and can deteriorate the macula relatively quickly if left untreated. 

Who is at Risk of Developing Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

There are a few groups of people who are at higher risk for AMD, including:

  • Adults 60 and older
  • Caucasians
  • Tobacco users
  • Those with a family history of AMD

If you exhibit more than one of these risk factors, you may need regular eye exams with your eye doctor at Boston’s New England Eye Center more than once a year. Your eye doctor should be able to tell you what your risk is based on your medical history. 

old woman looking out the window

Be sure to fully disclose your medical records and talk to them about how often you should have eye exams. Once they know your complete medical history and your risk level, they can develop an eye exam schedule that’s best for your vision needs.

There are no real warning signs of AMD before vision loss occurs. If you experience vision loss, you should see an eye doctor right away. 

For dry AMD, the earliest symptom that patients tend to notice with their vision is difficulty reading. The trouble with this is that it can also be a symptom of several other eye conditions. To be safe and know that your vision is not in danger, you should see your eye doctor as soon as you can so they can identify the cause.

For wet AMD, the earliest symptoms are dark spots in your central vision and distortion. Objects may look crooked, especially when you’re looking at something closer to the center of your vision. If you experience these symptoms, see an eye doctor as soon as possible to prevent any further vision loss.

Prevention and Treatment

There’s no way to prevent AMD, but you can lower your risk of developing the condition. You cannot help many risk factors like your family history, but if you’re a tobacco user, you can get the support you need to quit. 

Some vitamins have proven effective in preventing further vision loss from AMD and lowering your risk for developing wet AMD from dry AMD. For treatment, vitamins are the only effective treatment at the moment for dry AMD. 

older man using phone and rubbing his eye

But if it’s monitored when caught early, vitamins can effectively prevent further vision loss from dry AMD. For wet AMD, early intervention is critical in preventing further vision loss. 

You can achieve this with anti-VEGF injections, which inhibit the protein responsible for triggering blood vessel growth. Regular injections can stop further blood vessel growth, preventing more scarring to the macula.

In rare cases, laser therapy may be an effective way to treat wet AMD by essentially cauterizing leaking blood vessels on the macula. This therapy and anti-VEGF injections may be necessary for saving your vision from wet AMD. 

For the best success, you’ll need to have wet AMD diagnosed in the early stages. Whether you have dry or wet AMD, the most important thing you can do is be vigilant before developing the condition by having regular eye exams, understanding your risk, and taking vitamins as prescribed by a doctor.

Do you have concerns about age-related macular degeneration? Request an appointment at New England Eye Center in Boston, MA, now!

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