While macular degeneration can occur at any age, it is most common after the age of 60. As the name indicates, age is a major risk factor for AMD.
AMD is a progressive degeneration of the macula, which is the part of your retina responsible for your central vision. When the macula begins to deteriorate, patients notice blurred, distorted or blind spots in their vision.
There are two types of age-related macular degeneration: atrophic (dry), and exudative (wet). Dry AMD is the cause of most cases of macular degeneration. Approximately 90% of cases being the dry/atrophic variety. As the macular cells begin to age, they function less efficiently and develop a by-product called drusen. Drusen form underneath the retina and impair vision.
Wet/Exudative AMD is more severe than dry AMD. Weakened, unhealthy blood vessels become leaky beneath the retina and significantly impact the eye’s ability to see clearly. This can have a more serious impact by leaving behind permanent retina damage and vision loss.
Symptoms include: Distortion of straight lines, blurry vision, dark or light spots in central vision
During a comprehensive eye exam, screening tests are performed to look for signs of AMD using ocular coherence tomography (OCT). This is an extremely precise imaging method can measure the structures and cells of your eyes to within 5 microns of accuracy. This technology allows for the diagnosis as well as periodic monitoring of the macula to monitor for the slightest changes in the health of the eye. In addition to this equipment, we also use traditional diagnostic tests (such as the Amsler grid). These tests, in conjunction with an assessment of your visual acuity, gives us a detailed understanding of your vision and how AMD influences it.
Age is the biggest risk factor for developing AMD. Family history also plays a role with known genetic factors. People of Caucasian descent are more likely to develop AMD compared to other ethnicities. Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, exercise level, and exposure to UV rays also play a role in the development of AMD.
AMD begins somewhat quietly. Initially, it causes no pain and no vision loss. Vision loss is gradual and AMD on its own generally does not cause complete blindness. It can occur in one or both eyes, though most people do not notice changes to their vision until AMD has advanced.