Dr. Guy Eakin: Hello, I am Dr. Guy Eakin. If you or someone you know have recently received a diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration which your doctor might have called AMD, it can be frightening, but it's important that you find out all you can about the disease to ensure you get the best treatment available.
AMD is a common disease among people older than 60 and it causes deterioration of the central area of the retina called the macula. This is a paper-thin tissue that holds light-sensitive cells which send visual signals back to the brain.
Damage to the macula can result in blurred or distorted vision and potentially the development of blind spots in the middle of your field of vision. Many daily activities such as driving and reading can become increasingly difficult when the macula is damaged.
So while loss of vision does not hurt and it's not deadly in and of itself, without treatment and lifestyle adjustments it can put people, especially the elderly at risk for falls and other accidents and as well as giving rise to depression and a reduced quality of life.
We and others estimate that more than 11 million Americans have some form of AMD. That's as many people as are living with a cancer diagnosis. This number is expected to more than double by 2050. For Caucasians older than 65 it is the leading cause of legal blindness.
Macular degeneration occurs in two forms, dry and wet and can affect one or both eyes. A person with AMD may have either or both forms of the disease and it can progress slowly over years or rapidly over weeks.
The great majority of the people who have AMD have the dry form. With dry AMD, the cells of the macula slowly start to breakdown and yellowish deposits begin to form. As the number and size of these deposits grow, vision becomes more and more blurred particularly that central area of vision.
As the dry form worsens, abnormal blood vessels sometimes grow behind the macula. These vessels are fragile and they leak fluid and blood and this creates a condition called wet macular degeneration. The accumulation of these fluids lifts and damages the macula which distorts vision and causes vision loss.
Dry AMD can suddenly change into wet AMD, but it can also advance and cause loss of vision without changing into the wet form. However, people with wet AMD usually have the dry form first.
Wet AMD accounts for only about 10% of AMD cases, but produces 90% of legal blindness due to AMD. All wet macular degeneration is considered an advanced form of the disease.
If you or a love one are diagnosed with AMD, there is several treatment options that you and your eye care provider can discuss.