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Age-related Macular Degeneration

What is age-related macular degeneration (AMD)?
AMD is a condition in which the most sensitive part of the retina, the macula, deteriorates resulting in the loss of sharpest vision. AMD is the leading cause of blindness in individuals over age 65 in the western world. AMD occurs in two forms. The dry form, in which vision loss is usually moderate, is due to degeneration (atrophy) of the macular tissues. The wet form is marked by the growth of new blood vessels that may bleed. This may lead to scar formation. The wet form is associated with more severe vision loss than the dry form.

Who gets AMD?

AMD occurs almost exclusively in individuals over the age of 65. The biggest risk for its development is age but other characteristics of patients with AMD have been identified. These include Caucasian, light color eyes, cardiovascular disease, smoking, and sunlight exposure. A genetic relationship has also been identified. Patients with the dry form of the disease are at much greater risk of developing the wet form than those without dry AMD.

What are the symptoms of AMD?

Persons with dry AMD will notice a gradual loss of the central portion of their vision. As the condition progresses, objects will appear less clear, distorted, or may have a dark or empty area in their center. Wet AMD is associated with more rapid change in vision due to blood vessel leakage. The lack of clarity, distortion, or empty area in vision is usually much more pronounced.

Is there treatment for AMD?
The best treatment for AMD is prevention. Reduction of risk factors such as smoking and sunlight exposure will reduce the chances of developing AMD. For those who have developed dry AMD, these same recommendations may be helpful in preventing progression. A recent study by the National Eye Institute has clearly shown that dietary supplements of high levels of antioxidants and zinc significantly reduce the risk of vision loss from AMD in patients who already have intermediate or more advanced forms of the disease. Some cases of wet AMD can be treated with laser therapy. A number of new treatments for wet AMD are in the process of being developed as well. Central vision that has been lost to AMD cannot be restored. However, devices such as magnifiers and telescopic lenses can maximize remaining vision.