Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common condition and a leading cause of vision loss in older adults. AMD can blur your straight-ahead vision. It occurs when aging causes damage to the macula—the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that controls sharp, central vision.
AMD doesn’t cause complete blindness, but losing your central vision can make it harder to read, see faces, drive, or do close-up work. This condition progresses slowly in some people and quickly in others.
There are two types of AMD.
Most people with AMD have dry AMD. This is when the macula gets thinner with age. Dry AMD is classified into three stages: early, intermediate, and late. The disease usually progresses slowly over several years. There’s no treatment for late or “atrophic” dry AMD, but you can find ways to make the most of your remaining vision. If you have severe dry AMD in only one eye, there are steps you can take to protect your other eye.
Wet AMD is a less common type of late AMD that causes faster vision loss. Only about 10% of cases of dry AMD convert to wet AMD. This happens when abnormal blood vessels grow in the back of the eye and damage the macula or when fluid from those abnormal vessels accumulates under the retina. The good news is that treatment options are available for wet AMD if it is caught early enough.
Your risk for AMD increases as you get older. People over the age of 55 are more likely to have AMD. Other risk factors include:
Early AMD may not cause any symptoms—which is an important reason to have an annual eye examination. Symptoms may develop over time or without pain, and you may have visual distortion, such as straight lines seeming wavy or reduced central vision in one or both eyes.
Research shows that you may be able to lower your risk of AMD by making these healthy choices:
Eye doctors check for AMD as part of a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Further examination may be performed using an imaging technique called optical coherence tomography (OCT). OCT allows the doctor to look under the retina for new blood vessel growth or edema (leaky blood vessels).
Don’t take your vision for granted. Many eye diseases—including macular degeneration—may have no warning signs or symptoms and can only be detected through a comprehensive eye examination. Make an annual eye exam part of your routine healthcare and enjoy seeing all the wonderful things our world has to offer.