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What Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration, also called AMD, is the deterioration of the center of the retina called the macula. The macula is the part of the retina which is responsible for our central vision and our ability to see color and fine detail when looking directly at an object. 

AMD is the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 55.

In the early stages of AMD, there is little or no vision loss. As the disease advances, images can become blurred, distorted, or a dark or empty area can appear in the center of the vision. AMD does not cause total blindness because side vision is not affected.>

There is some good news relating to macular degeneration. With regular checkups, early diagnosis, and new treatment options, doctors are now able to prevent or minimize the damage that age-related macular degeneration can cause to vision.

Symptoms of Macular Degeneration

The most significant symptom of macular degeneration is blurred or distorted central vision. Over time, macular degeneration can affect vision by forming a blurred, darkened, or empty area in the center of vision, or it can distort one’s surroundings, most noticeably in the appearance of straight lines. Macular degeneration may also cause colors to become less vivid.

Blurred or distorted central vision can cause an inability to perform tasks that require precision, like driving a car. Fortunately, this disease does not cause total blindness because side vision is not affected. If macular degeneration occurs in only one eye, the symptoms of the disease may not be noticed right away, as the good eye compensates for the bad eye. It is essential to take these symptoms seriously and to speak with an eye care professional immediately if they are developed.

Dry Form Macular Degeneration

The most common form of age-related macular degeneration is called the dry form. This form of the disease affects up to 90 percent of AMD patients. In the early stages of dry AMD, tiny deposits of drusen, start appearing within the retina. These drusen may be so insignificant that the patient has few, if any, outward symptoms and no vision loss.

As dry AMD progresses, however, more disruptive drusen begin to appear. As the size and number of drusen increase, patients may begin to notice a small dark spot in their central vision causing them problems while reading or driving at night. Drusen alone are not proof of macular degeneration, but they are an important warning sign. It is critical for patients to understand that as dry AMD progresses, it can turn into the more severe form called wet AMD.

Wet Form Macular Degeneration

A less common but more serious form of age-related macular degeneration is called the wet form. This form of the disease affects about 10 percent of AMD patients. In the wet form of AMD, abnormal blood vessels begin to develop underneath the retina. These abnormal blood vessels are unusually delicate and may bleed or leak fluid. This fluid builds up beneath the retina, causing it to bulge or lift up from the back of the eye. The eye is damaged as a result, causing central vision to appear blurred, wavy, or distorted.

Wet AMD can progress rapidly, leading to severe vision problems in the affected eye and causing permanent vision loss. Early diagnosis of wet AMD is critical. If caught early, treatment options exist, which may delay or reduce damage to the eye and decrease the severity of vision loss.