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Age-Related Macular Degeneration, or AMD, occurs when the macula, an area of the retina that allows you to have detailed central vision, breaks down. It does not affect peripheral vision, which is the ability to see general shapes “out of the corner of your eye” even when you’re looking straight ahead. The macula is made up of millions of light-sensing cells that provide sharp, central vision. It is the most sensitive part of the retina, which is located at the back of the eye. The retina turns light into electrical signals and then sends these electrical signals through the optic nerve to the brain, where they are translated into the images we see. When the macula is damaged, the center of your field of view may appear blurry, distorted, or dark.
There are two main types of AMD:
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of permanent impairment of reading and fine or close-up vision among people aged 65 years and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC estimates that 1.8 million Americans aged 40 years and older are affected by Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). Another 7.3 million Americans who have large deposits in the retina called drusen, are at increased risk of developing AMD. By 2020, due to our aging populations, the number of Americans with AMD is predicted reach an estimated 2.95 million.
There are two main factors that cause AMD:
There are several factors that can influence the risk of developing AMD:
If you or your doctor notice changes in your vision that suggest an eye disease or condition, you may be referred to an ophthalmologist (medical doctor specializing in the eye) for diagnosis. The early and intermediate stages of AMD usually start without symptoms. Only a comprehensive dilated eye exam can detect AMD. Below are the leading methods of diagnosis for eye diseases and conditions:
One of the first tests done may be a visual acuity test. Using an eye chart, your eye care professional can measure how well you see at distances. Other tests are more specific to the type of AMD suspected.
The following are symptoms of age-related macular degeneration:
Macular degeneration almost never causes total blindness. Even people with more advanced cases of AMD retain their peripheral (side) vision and can learn to compensate. In many cases, macular degeneration’s impact on your vision can be minimal.
In many cases, depending on the eye disease or condition you have and your response to treatment, your vision may not be not noticeably impaired and you won’t experience any pain or only mild discomfort.
However, you may need to compensate for partial loss of vision if you have a condition such as wet AMD that can’t be treated. Ask your eye care specialist about low-vision rehabilitation devices and services that will help you learn coping strategies so that you can to continue to live independently.
Many people with some vision loss have to stop driving. If that happens to you, visit SeniorDrivingAAA.com to get information about affordable and convenient ways to maintain your mobility.
Here are some top tips for living well with vision impairment:
Serious eye diseases and conditions often have no symptoms until irreversible damage to vision has been done. If you wear prescription glasses and/or contacts, you probably go to an optometrist for an annual check-up to make sure your prescription hasn’t changed and to order a new batch of contacts if you’re running out of them. Optometrists conduct vision tests to check for basic vision impairment, and can prescribe glasses and contact lenses. They can also spot early warning signs and give you a referral to an ophthalmologist, an eye doctor with a medical doctor degree, for a more thorough examination. If you do not wear contact lenses or glasses, chances are you miss out this periodic optometric screening. Many times, family doctors with conduct a visual acuity test, which is a series of letters decreasing in size on a chart that patients are asked to read to the best of their ability. This gives doctors the opportunity to do as the optometrists would.
The standard recommendation for all adults over the age of 40 is to have an eye exam at least every two years, and for adults over 65, to have an eye exam every year. According to the National Federation of the Blind, prompt detection and treatment can preserve your vision for a lifetime even if you do contract a serious eye condition or disorder. Schedule an eye exam with an optometrist. If he or she spots any problems that may be of concern, you will most likely be referred to an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor specializing in eyes, for further testing. Be sure to make an appointment with the ophthalmologist and follow recommendations regarding the frequency of follow-ups should any diseases or conditions be detected.
People with diabetes or at risk of developing gestational diabetes are recommended to get additional ophthalmic screening.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the eye screening schedule:
Type 1 Diabetes: Within five years of being diagnosed and yearly thereafter.
Type 2 Diabetes: At the time of diagnosis and yearly thereafter.
During pregnancy: During the first trimester and follow-ups if indicated.
The best defense against AMD is to have regular checkups, because eye diseases do not always have obvious symptoms. Early detection and treatment are the keys to preventing vision loss. Beyond that, a healthy diet that has sufficient vitamins and other nutrients will help keep your eyes healthy, lubricated, and free of infections. Also, avoid second hand smoke—and if you smoke, kick the habit. Protect your eyes from injury by wearing plastic eye guards if you’re involved in any activity that poses a risk of flying objects or particles. Finally, remember that overexposure to the sun is just as bad for your eyes as it is for your skin. Wear sunglasses and stay away from tanning beds.
Here is what was in the dietary supplement that was tested in the study:
• Vitamin C – 500 mg
• Vitamin E – 400 IU
• Lutein – 10 mg
• Zeaxanthin – 2 mg
• Zinc oxide – 80 mg
• Copper (as cupric oxide) – 2 mg (to prevent copper deficiency, which may be associated with taking high amounts of zinc)
Another large study showed that taking folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 benefited women with AMD. Remember, however, that vitamin supplements don’t cure AMD or give you back any vision that has been lost.
In some cases, your ophthalmologist may recommend combining anti-VEGF treatment with other therapies:
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) notes that a follow-up to the NIH Age-Related Eye Disease Study found the following results regarding proposed changes to a supplement containing high doses of vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc that may delay the progression from dry AMD to wet AMD:
A healthy, body, mind and spirit will improve your chances of controlling any eyes diseases and conditions you may have, especially as you age. Here are some guidelines for a lifestyle that will help you live not only long but well and go a long way toward preserving your vision for a lifetime:
In addition to your regularly scheduled visits to your eye care professionals, get immediate medical attention if you notice any sudden change in your vision or experience unusual symptoms such as extreme eye pain, burning, itching, redness, or fluid coming out of your eye.
Before you visit your doctor, write down a list of questions and concerns. Consider bringing a friend or family member along who can help you make sure you get all the information you need. In addition, writing down the doctor’s answers and recommendation for later reference is a good idea. Also come prepared with your medical history, information about any allergies you have, your family medical history, and a complete list of all medications you take including over-the-counter herbs and supplements.
Here are some questions you might pose when you visit your optometrist:
Here are some questions you might pose if you are referred to an ophthalmologist:
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