Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a deterioration or breakdown of the eye’s macula. The macula is a small area in the retina — the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye. The macula is the part of the retina that is responsible for your central vision, allowing you to see fine details clearly.

The macula makes up only a small part of the retina, yet it is much more sensitive to detail than the rest of the retina (called the peripheral retina). The macula is what allows you to thread a needle, read small print, and read street signs. The peripheral retina gives you side (or peripheral) vision. If someone is standing off to one side of your vision, your peripheral retina helps you know that person is there by allowing you to see their general shape.

Many older people develop macular degeneration as part of the body’s natural aging process. There are different kinds of macular problems, but the most common is age-related macular degeneration.

With macular degeneration, you may have symptoms such as blurriness, dark areas or distortion in your central vision, and perhaps permanent loss of your central vision. It usually does not affect your side, or peripheral vision. For example, with advanced macular degeneration, you could see the outline of a clock, yet may not be able to see the hands of the clock to tell what time it is.

Causes of macular degeneration include the formation of deposits called drusen under the retina, and in some cases, the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina. With or without treatment, macular degeneration alone almost never causes total blindness. People with more advanced cases of macular degeneration continue to have useful vision using their side, or peripheral vision. In many cases, macular degeneration’s impact on your vision can be minimal.

When macular degeneration does lead to loss of vision, it usually begins in just one eye, though it may affect the other eye later.

Many people are not aware that they have macular degeneration until they have a noticeable vision problem or until it is detected during an eye examination

Types of macular degeneration: DMD & WMD

Dry, or atrophic, Macular Degeneration

Most people who have macular degeneration have the dry form. This condition is caused by aging and thinning of the tissues of the macula. Macular degeneration usually begins when tiny yellow or white pieces of fatty protein called drusen form under the retina. Eventually, the macula may become thinner and stop working properly.

With dry macular degeneration, vision loss is usually gradual. People who develop dry macular degeneration must carefully and constantly monitor their central vision. If you notice any changes in your vision, you should tell your Doctor right away, as the dry form can change into the more damaging form of macular degeneration called wet (exudative) macular degeneration. While there is no medication or treatment for dry macular degeneration, some people may benefit from a vitamin therapy regimen for dry macular degeneration.

Dry macular degeneration signs and symptoms

  • Blurry distance and/or reading vision
  • Need for increasingly bright light to see up close
  • Colors appear less vivid or bright
  • Hazy vision
  • Difficulty seeing when going from bright light to low light (such as entering a dimly lit room from the bright outdoors)
  • Trouble or inability to recognize people’s faces
  • Blank or blurry spot in your central vision

 

 

Wet, or exudative, macular degeneration

About 10 percent of people who have macular degeneration have the wet form, but it can cause more damage to your central or detail vision than the dry form.

Wet macular degeneration occurs when abnormal blood vessels begin to grow underneath the retina. This blood vessel growth is called choroidal neovascularization (CNV) because these vessels grow from the layer under the retina called the choroid. These new blood vessels may leak fluid or blood, blurring or distorting central vision. Vision loss from this form of macular degeneration may be faster and more noticeable than that from dry macular degeneration.

The longer these abnormal vessels leak or grow, the more risk you have of losing more of your detailed vision. Also, if abnormal blood vessel growth happens in one eye, there is a risk that it will occur in the other eye. The earlier that wet macular degeneration is diagnosed and treated, the better chance you have of preserving some or much of your central vision. That is why it is so important that you and your ophthalmologist monitor your vision in each eye carefully.

Wet macular degeneration signs and symptoms

  • Distorted vision — straight lines will appear bent, crooked or irregular
  • Dark gray spots or blank spots in your vision
  • Loss of central vision
  • Size of objects may appear different for each eye
  • Colors lose their brightness; colors do not look the same for each eye
  • Wet macular degeneration symptoms usually appear and get worse fairly quickly.

 

 

Wet macular degeneration: detection with fluorescein angiography and OCT

If your ophthalmologist suspects you may have the wet form of macular degeneration, he or she will take special photographs of your eye with fluorescein angiography and optical coherence tomography (OCT). OCT scanning is a sophisticated and exact tool that detects abnormal blood vessels by creating a special picture of your macula.

During fluorescein angiography, a fluorescein dye is injected into a vein in your arm. The dye travels throughout the body, including your eyes. Photographs are taken of your eye as the dye passes through the retinal blood vessels. Abnormal areas will be highlighted by the dye, showing your doctor whether wet macular degeneration treatment is possible and, if so, where to treat the abnormal vessels.

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