What You Need to Know About Age-Related Macular Degeneration

As you get older, your eyesight will also change. Age-related eye conditions are an inevitable part of aging. Many of these eye conditions also lead to blindness and vision loss. 

But you don’t have to lose your vision as you get older. The key is to be aware of age-related eye conditions and schedule regular eye exams. 

If you’re diagnosed with one of these conditions, you can start treatment earlier. Earlier treatment means you can manage or prevent further vision loss. One common age-related eye condition is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). 

As with any age-related condition, older adults need to understand what age-related macular degeneration is. They also need to know who’s at risk, what the symptoms are, and how to manage it. Keep reading to learn more about age-related macular degeneration!

What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

The macula is the center of the retina, the thin membrane that lines the back of your eye. The retina contains photoreceptor cells. These cells translate the light that passes through your eye into impulses sent to the brain. 

After sending these impulses to the brain, it forms them into images to make them easy to understand. The macula can degenerate. If the macular degenerates, it means the retina’s center can thin out or suffer damage. 

If this occurs, it destroys important photoreceptor cells. Eventually, the damage begins to affect your central vision.

There are two kinds of age-related macular degeneration: dry and wet. Of the two, dry is more common. It affects about 80% of patients with age-related macular degeneration.

Dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Dry age-related macular degeneration is the most common form of AMD. If you have dry AMD, it develops slowly and may begin by making it more difficult to read. 

Yellowish deposits called drusen can build up in the macula as you age. The drusen cause the macula to thin out and kills photoreceptor cells gradually over time. 

Wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Wet age-related macular degeneration is the least common of the two types. It occurs when the blood vessels on your macula grow abnormally. 

These abnormal blood vessels swell and leak, scarring the macula. The build-up of scar tissue kills photoreceptor cells. 

While wet AMD is rarer, more treatments are available for it than dry age-related macular degeneration.

Who’s At Risk of Developing Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

The people most at risk for developing age-related macular degeneration are:

  • Adults over 55
  • People that are Caucasian
  • Tobacco users
  • People with a known family history of age-related macular degeneration

If you’re at risk for AMD, it’s essential to have regular eye exams. You should see an eye doctor at least once a year after you turn 55. 

If you’re at higher risk due to another one of these risk factors, you may want to have yearly eye exams even earlier. Be sure to talk to your eye doctor. 

They can help set up the appropriate eye exam schedule based on how often you need eye exams. Everyone’s schedule differs. It depends on the risk for age-related macular degeneration and other age-related eye conditions.

What are the Symptoms of Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Like many age-related eye conditions, age-related macular degeneration shows no symptoms during its early stages. After advancing and showing signs, all damage from AMD is permanent and irreversible. 

There is no cure for age-related macular degeneration. You cannot recover any vision loss due to the eye condition. 

Your central vision will worsen in the later stages of age-related macular degeneration. The first signs of this are that straight lines may appear curvy. 

Later, you may notice blurry spots in your central vision. This can even develop into full-on blind spots as the condition progresses.

Ideally, your eye doctor at New England Eye Center can spot the signs of age-related macular degeneration before you experience symptoms. But this is only possible if you schedule regular eye exams. It’s a big part of why they are so crucial. 

When spotted and diagnosed early, you can treat and manage age-related macular degeneration.

How to Treat Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Nutritional supplements are the only treatment for patients with dry age-related macular degeneration. Certain vitamins can help slow down the thinning of the macula. These vitamins are especially helpful during the early stages of the condition as it’s developing. 

While it may sound simple, these vitamins are proven effective in significantly slowing down dry age-related macular degeneration. If your ophthalmologist diagnoses you with dry age-related macular degeneration, they can prescribe these supplements while monitoring the progress of your condition. 

Unlike dry age-related degeneration, you can treat the wet form in a few ways. One common form of treatment is injecting a drug that inhibits new blood vessel growth. 

When taken regularly, these injections can clear away swollen and leaking blood vessels, preventing further damage to the macula. There are also laser treatments that can treat wet age-related macular degeneration. 

Using laser treatments can destroy or seal off leaking blood vessels. If you have wet age-related macular degeneration, your eye doctor may recommend one or a combination of treatments depending on the severity of the condition. 

Whatever treatment you get, you will likely need to have it regularly to continue preventing further damage to the macula.

Preventing Vision Loss from Age-Related Macular Degeneration

The key to preventing vision loss of any kind is to have regular eye exams. The earlier you receive a diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration, the sooner you can begin treatment.  

After being diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration, the only way to prevent vision loss is through management, either with nutritional supplements or appropriate treatment.

Age-related macular degeneration is nothing to fear, but you should be aware of it as you age, especially if you’re at higher risk. Learn more about this and other age-related eye conditions by requesting an appointment at New England Eye Center in Boston, MA!

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