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Age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease that adversely affects older individuals and causes varying degrees of central vision loss. ARMD or AMD is the leading cause of vision loss for American individuals that are over the age of 50. 

Age-related macular degeneration is a larger, catch-all phrase for types of eye disease that affect the macula. Eldery people, caucasians, those with drastic health issues like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes, are more at risk. The loss of central vision severely hampers daily life, causing difficulty in driving, reading, working, and even socializing. 

The severity of AMD as well as its symptoms range depending on the individual. Additionally, low vision to severe vision loss may or may not occur, depending on when the eye disease was first noticed and treated. Early AMD is hardly detectable whereas advanced stages may drastically alter one’s life. 

What causes age-related macular degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration occurs in a part of the retina called the macula. The macula is a 5mm, film-like piece of the eye that is responsible for taking in light and transmitting it, via the optic nerve, to the brain. The dry form of AMD causes drusen to build up under the macula, thinning and drying it out. 

When either wet or dry AMD occurs, the macula’s integrity and health becomes compromised, leading to blurry vision, wavy lines, or blind spots. Usually, AMD degrades sharp, central vision, but doesn’t cause total vision loss and permanent blindness. Peripheral vision typically remains intact unless an individual has experienced retinal damage or retinal detachment.  

What are the differences between dry and wet amd? 

Two forms of age-related macular degeneration may occur. The majority of people with AMD will have the dry form and still others may only progress to the wet form of AMD because of first having dry AMD.

Dry Macular Degeneration:

  • This is the most common type of AMD, accounting for 80% of all AMD cases.
  • Dry age-related macular degeneration is also known as non-neovascular AMD.
  • Small yellow deposits called drusen form under the retina. Drusen is a waste product of the retina. This stops flow of nutrients to the retina, causing cells that make up the retina to die, resulting in vision loss. 

Wet Macular Degeneration: 

  • Progresses much more quickly than dry AMD and usually requires immediate, aggressive treatment. 
  • New blood vessels begin to grow under the retina, crowding the area and causing leaks. 
  • When these new blood vessels break and leak fluid into the retina, the macula, and thus central vision loss is compromised. 

Risk factors for AMD.

The most common risk factors for developing age-related macular degeneration include but are not limited to: 

  • Family history of AMD
  • Age. Those over 65 are more susceptible than the younger population.
  • Lighter pigment eyes are most susceptible to developing AMD
  • Race and sex. Caucasian and female individuals are more likely to develop AMD than those of other races or sexes.
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Over exposure to harsh sunlight throughout life
  • Diet low in vitamins and antioxidants

Symptoms of Age-related macular degeneration.

Dry age-related macular degeneration is often difficult to catch because it progresses slowly and may cause minor symptoms. The main symptoms of age-related macular degeneration are: 

  • Blurred of wavy lines in vision
  • Trouble seeing in low light settings
  • Trouble focusing on small text or items that require sharp vision
  • Changes in the appearance of color, may appear less vibrant
  • Blind spots in vision

Diagnosing AMD. 

Diagnosing either type of age-related macular degeneration typically involves painless procedures. Some are simpler than others, but all have merits in figuring out if an individual has AMD and if so, what type. Here are the main tests that opthamologists will employ when diagnosing AMD. 

  • Visual acuity. Similar to an eye exam, a visual acuity test checks the patient’s ability to see sharp details of letters or shapes from a designated distance.
  • Dilated eye exam. The eye doctor uses special eye drops to dilate the pupil and peer into the back of the eye with a special medical instrument.
  • Amsler Grid. This grid-shaped graph allows the eye doctor to check for blindspots, wavy lines, and dark patches in one’s vision by asking them questions about the straight lines creating the grid. Test yourself with this Amsler Grid provided by the American Academy of Ophthalmology
  • Fluorescein angiography. Yellow dye is injected into your bloodstream. As it makes its way towards the retina, your opthamologist will begin to snap photos of the eye. If leaks or broken blood vessels exist, the yellow dye will leak out.  
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT). A non-invasive tool, OCT takes two and three dimensional images of the eye to detect distortions. 

Treatment for AMD.

When individuals haven’t experienced vision loss from AMD, the treatment is rather straightforward. The National Eye institute ran clinical trials and an age-related eye disease study in which they used vitamins and minerals to slow the progression of AMD. This AREDS test was instrumental in mitigating further vision damage to those with early stages of AMD.   

If vision loss has already occurred, treatment may include: 

  • Anti-VEGF drugs. This injectable treatment stops the growth of new blood vessels. Commonly administered drugs include Avastin and Lucentis. 
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT). Photosensitizing agents are activated by certain light waves and kill off new blood cells that are causing harm. 
  • Laser photocoagulation. Lasers are used to seal off tiny blood vessels in the eye that are leaking and causing damage.
  • Healthy lifestyle. Promoting eye health through dietary means and nutritional supplements may be one of the best ways in preventing advanced stage AMD or decreasing risk factors of developing the eye disease entirely.

Preventing and Living with AMD.

If you are in one of the higher risk categories or already experience health issues like heart disease, high cholesterol, or diabetes, it’s especially important to schedule routine eye exams with an ophthalmologist in Orlando. Aging individuals should consider ramping up their overall health and wellness practices by implementing a vitamin regimen. 

UCF Health Services provides ample resources for cultivating better habits – including eating healthy, learning about the latest COVID-19 updates for patients, and staying on top of your health by using our patient portal. This tool allows our Orlando community to access invaluable resources, easily book an appointment with a care provider through a straightforward online scheduling tool, and access medical records instantly. For a comprehensive and personal approach to your health, partner with UCF Health.