Macular degeneration (known as AMD) is a disease common in people aged 65+ that causes damage to the retina and to central vision and it comes in two forms, dry and wet. Dry AMD is much more common and mild but it can turn into the wet type of macular degeneration and cause more damage to your vision.
Around 90% of all AMD cases are dry which rarely leads to legal blindness. In this type of macular degeneration, the macula ages and thins out, resulting in clusters of small pieces of protein and fat collecting under the retina called drusen. Dry AMD usually starts in just one eye but is likely to also develop in the other eye over time. In the early stages, a person with dry AMD usually does not notice any change in his or her vision because the effects of dry AMD are very gradual and usually the unaffected eye can compensate for the eye with AMD. It is therefore so crucial to be checked by an eye doctor who can detect the early stages of this disease and help slow down its progression.
Most legal blindness resulting from macular degeneration occurs in 10% of cases which fall under the wet AMD category. The wet type of macular degeneration gets its name from the fact that it damages the eye due to the leakage of fluid and blood under the retina. This results from unstable new blood vessels that form on the retina.
The symptoms for this more mild form of macular degeneration start gradually and without pain, making it hard for the person with this condition to notice it for the first while as they could be asymptomatic for months or years. A person with dry AMD may notice very subtly over time that their vision starts to decrease and could fluctuate, but is usually best in bright light. Since dry AMD can go undetected at the beginning, it is so important to schedule an appointment with your eye doctor who can start to see early changes in your retina. If dry AMD is diagnosed early, certain precautions can be taken to prevent it from turning into the more serious type of wet AMD which can cause serious vision loss.
In contrast to the gradual symptoms of dry AMD, in wet AMD, the onset of symptoms could be sudden with a rapid progression.
If you have wet AMD, you may notice certain differences in your vision, such as:
Various tests are performed by your eye doctor in order to conclusively diagnose this condition. You will be asked to share your medical history, any symptoms or changes in your vision and if any of your first degree relatives have macular degeneration. The eye doctor will use eye drops to dilate your pupils which enables a non-invasive examination of the retina where the doctor can check for characteristic signs of macular degeneration, such as yellow spots called drusen or abnormal blood cells.
In addition, there are various other diagnostic tools available which can display damage to the retina. One such method, Ocular Coherence Tomography (OCT) is a special machine used for imaging of the retina in which any changes, such as those that are seen in AMD, can be clearly detected. Another option is fluorescein angiography where dye is injected into the vein of the arm and this dye travels to the eye. A picture of the retina is taken to show the dye which highlights any leakage or retinal changes resulting from AMD.
The eye doctor will also check your vision to detect any changes and will use the Amsler grid for this purpose. This tool is a small black and white grid that the patient simply looks at and can determine if any of the lines look distorted or have disappeared which can help identify any visual changes such as a blind spot. You will likely be given an Amsler grid to use at home in order to screen for any changes or progression of AMD. There are many effective tools we have today to ensure a proper diagnosis of macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is a common eye disease in people aged 65+ and thankfully there are wonderful ways your eye doctor can detect this condition early in order to prevent visual damage. There is also very effective treatment available for those who are experiencing changes in their vision. It is important to understand the difference between the more mild dry AMD as opposed to wet AMD so that the proper precautions can be taken to avoid serious vision loss. It is very highly recommended for people aged sixty or over to be monitored for macular degeneration. If you are in this age group, or have a family history of macular degeneration or any suspicion that you might be experiencing changes in your vision, please schedule an appointment at our office. The eye doctor will check for AMD and will guide you with the necessary precautions and measures you can take to preserve the health of your eyes.