Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is poised to become a new epidemic in the U.S. by 2030, affecting more than 10 million Americans. Already, it is the No. 1 cause of blindness, robbing more people of their sight than cataracts and glaucoma combined.
AMD is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, the surface at the back of the eye that registers what we see and transmits the information to the brain. This central part of the retina is called the macula, and is the most sensitive part of the retina. It is involved in nearly everything we see – reading, driving, recognizing faces and colors and seeing objects in fine detail.
It is unclear exactly what causes AMD, although it is believed both genetic and environmental factors contribute to its development. In its early stages, AMD has almost no symptoms. People with early AMD often don’t know they have it, making regular eye exams critical to early detection and treatment. A thorough eye exam can detect the signs of AMD – medium sized yellow deposits called drusen, below the retina.
In its intermediate stage, patients may notice some vision loss or report blurry or wavy vision. As AMD continues to worsen, central vision may be completely lost. At this point, patients experience a big blurry spot right in the middle of everything. People with late AMD are considered legally blind. Although they often retain peripheral vision, this is not as clear or as detailed as central vision.
Risk factors for AMD
• AMD occurs more frequently in people over the age of 55. A genetic form of macular degeneration affects younger people.
• Family history of AMD. Having a close relative with age-related macular degeneration puts you at greater risk for developing it yourself.
• Caucasians are at higher risk for developing AMD. African-Americans and Latinas have a lower risk, possibly because they generally have more melanin in their eyes. (Melanin absorbs UV rays.)
• Smoking/tobacco use doubles the risk of developing AMD.
AMD seems to affect people in occupations that entail greater exposure to ultraviolet and blue light. This includes:
• Those who work or play outdoors: Construction workers, farmers, truck drivers, athletes, police, beachgoers
• Those who work in offices that are brightly lit with fluorescent lights
• People who spend a lot of time in front of computer terminals, tablets and other devices that generate blue light
• People who take photosensitizing medications, including tranquilizers, diuretics, oral contraceptives, antibiotics, diabetes medications and high blood pressure medications
Although we don’t know for certain what causes AMD, there are steps you can take to help reduce your risk:
• Have regular eye exams and discuss any family history with your eye professional
• When outdoors, wear sunglasses. The best sunglasses are those that provide UV400 protection.
• Follow label directions carefully for any medications you may be taking.
• If you experience blurriness, waviness or loss of sight, seek professional help immediately
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