What is age-related macular degeneration (AMD)?
AMD or age-related macular degeneration is a degenerative disease that affects the macular which is the central portion of the retina. The macula is responsible for central vision which is necessary to perform most everyday tasks such as reading or driving.
There are two types of age-related macular degeneration:
Dry or atrophic AMD is the most common and benign form of the condition. It progresses slowly with vision deteriorating after years or even decades. An atrophy or wasting away of the retinal nerve tissue of the macula occurs.
Wet or exudative AMD is much rarer but much quicker, more aggressive and debilitating in its development than dry AMD. Without treatment it could lead to a complete and irreversible loss of central vision. It’is caused by the growth of vascular membranes in the macula that bleed and alter the macula’s normal structure preventing central vision.
What are the symptoms of AMD?
One of the first symptoms of AMD is a change in the perception of straight lines; instead of seeing straight lines, the patient sees crooked or slanted ones.
In more advanced stages, the central part of the patient’s visual field will be blurry or with a black mark in the middle causing loss of central vision. The loss of central vision causes difficulties with reading, writing, driving, sewing or performing other tasks requiring focus.
You should go straight to an ophthalmologist if you notice any of these symptoms.
A very simple test that over 50’s can do is to look at straight lines (e.g. a door frame, tiles etc.) and cover first one eye and then the other. If these lines appear crooked, you should see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
What are the risk factors of AMD?
Age-related macular degeneration is a condition with several factors of which age is the primary risk factor.
Other risk factors such as genetic or environmental factors also exist. In terms of environmental factors, the main ones are related to oxidative stress of the retina, for example smoking, exposure to UV radiation, and poor diet.
Can AMD be prevented?
AMD cannot be prevented but we can make changes to our lifestyle such as quitting smoking, having a healthy diet and undergoing regular ophthalmological checks from the age of 50.
How is AMD treated?
It’s important to distinguish between the two types of age-related macular degeneration:
There are vitamin and mineral supplements which in certain cases can slow the progression of the disease.
Treatment for dry or atrophic ADM: there is currently no effective treatment available for dry AMD that can repair the retinal cells that have already been destroyed.
Treatment for wet or exudative ADM: currently the most effective treatment is anti-angiogenic eye injections. These anti-angiogenics block the development of the vascular membranes responsible for macular damage. Consequently, loss of sight is slowed down and there may even be an improvement in visual sharpness.