February is Age Related Macular Degeneration Month

February is National Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Awareness Month. Join the conversation by using the hashtag #SightMatters and by visiting sightmatters.com. Information in this blog comes from the home page of Prevent Blindness as well as their articles about Eye Diseases & Conditions AMD (Age-Related Macular Degeneration), Eye Diseases & Conditions Dry Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and a comprehensive article from VisionAware entitled February is Age Related Macular Degeneration Month: Lower Your Risk of Vision Loss.

What is AMD?

Age-related Macular Degeneration, commonly referred to as AMD, affects an estimated 1.8 million Americans aged 40 years and older and an additional 7.3 million with large drusen are at substantial risk of developing AMD. The number of people with AMD was estimated to reach 2.95 million in 2020. AMD if left untreated is the leading cause of permanent impairment of reading and fine or close-up vision among people aged 65 years and older.

AMD affects part of the back of the eye called the macula, which is the central part of the retina (the “film” lining the inside the eye). When AMD damages the macula, the center part of a person’s vision may become blurred or wavy, and a blind spot may develop. AMD can cause vision loss quickly or slowly and can make it very hard to do things that require sharp central vision, such as reading, crafts, cooking, driving, or recognizing faces; it can also make it difficult to see in dim light. The good news is that AMD almost never causes total blindness, since it usually does not hurt side (peripheral) vision.

The Two Types of AMD

There are two kinds of AMD – dry and wet. The most common form of AMD is dry AMD, of which 85-90 percent of AMD patients are diagnosed. Dry AMD is caused by the appearance of small yellow deposits called drusen, which form under the retina. These are accumulated waste products of the retina, which can grow in size. This can cause the retinal cells in the macula that process light to die, causing vision to become blurred. This form of the disease usually worsens slowly. There are three stages to dry AMD, early, intermediate, and advanced.

The key to slowing or preventing vision loss from dry AMD is regular eye exams. People age 50 or older should get a complete eye exam and follow-up with eye exams every one or two years or as indicated by the eye doctor. It is important to attend all scheduled eye exams even if there are no noticeable vision problems.

There may be no symptoms until the disease progresses or affects both eyes. Vision changes due to dry AMD can include:

  • Difficulty seeing in the center of your vision, which is needed for reading, crafts, cooking, recognizing faces, and driving
  • Trouble seeing in dim light
  • Straight lines start to appear wavy, blurry or missing
  • Fading and/or changes in the appearance of colors

Wet AMD, also known as neovascular AMD, generally causes more rapid and more serious vision loss if left untreated. In this form of the disease, people with the intermediate stage of dry AMD or with the advanced stage of dry AMD develop tiny new blood vessels and scar tissue which grow under and into the retina. These blood vessels are fragile and often break and leak, which, along with scarring of the retina, can cause a loss of vision. Wet AMD may be treated with various treatments.

GuideMe is a resource for those who have been recently diagnosed with an eye disease, their family members and caregivers.

Reduce Your Risks

In addition to scheduling a comprehensive eye exam with an ophthalmologist who can help you reduce the risks of vision loss there are other things that can be done to help mitigate your risk for AMD.

According to ophthalmologist and American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) spokesperson Rahul Khurana, MD., here is what you need to know:

1. AMD may develop silently, with no early symptoms. In the earliest stages of AMD, you may not notice any changes to your eyes or vision. The AAO urges adults with no symptoms to have an eye exam at least by age 40, even if you do not wear glasses or contacts. After age 65, it is recommended to get an exam every one to two years. If you notice problems with your eyesight or have eye discomfort, see an ophthalmologist right away. Early diagnosis enables timely treatment which can preserve vision.

2. Family history shapes your risk of AMD. Talk to your family to learn about their eye health. If a close family member has AMD, you have a greater risk of getting the disease. Let your doctor know about any family history of AMD so you can improve your chances of early detection and treatment. 

3. Treatments for macular degeneration are more effective than ever. Fifteen years ago, wet AMD often caused blindness and there was no treatment for it. While there is still no treatment for dry AMD, now there are sight-saving treatments for wet AMD. With the use of anti-VEGF drugs, fewer people are going blind. And in the future, treatments like stem cell therapy may make it possible to prevent vision loss from AMD.

4. Vitamins can slow AMD (but not in all cases). If you have AMD, you may have heard that the AREDS 2 vitamin formula can help slow the disease. Clinical trials show that these vitamins for AMD can help with intermediate or advanced AMD in one eye. Trials have not shown that they prevent AMD in people who do not have the disease. Ask your eye doctor which vitamin formula is right for you.

5. Smoking increases your risk of macular degeneration. Many studies have found that smoking cigarettes can increase risk of AMD. Smoking also increases the speed at which the disease worsens. If you smoke, you are twice as likely to get AMD compared with a nonsmoker. The good news is that stopping smoking is the best action you can take to lower your risk of AMD. People who quit smoking 20 years ago have the same risk of AMD as people who have never smoked.

6. Daily vision checking at home is effective at monitoring AMD progression. The Amsler grid is a simple chart that people with dry AMD can use at home to check for changes in their vision. All you do is look at it once every day! Learn how to use the Amsler grid to track progression and risk of AMD-related vision loss. 

7. Eating certain foods may cut your risk of macular degeneration. Studies have shown that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are good for eye health. Studies link eating these foods with a reduced risk of AMD — but not when taken as supplements. Other nutrients that help eye health include lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and vitamin C.

To help cut AMD risk and maintain eye health, eat foods such as: cold-water fish (salmon and tuna), citrus fruits, kale, spinach, corn, broccoli, squash, and black-eyed peas.

8. Exercise can help protect your vision as you age. Many studies show getting regular exercise can benefit your eyes. One study found that exercising three times a week reduced the risk of getting wet AMD by 70%. Studies also show that exercise reduces the risk of all stages of AMD.

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