Macular degeneration, often called AMD or ARMD (age-related macular degeneration), is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in Americans aged 65 and older. AMD occurs with degeneration of the macula, which is the part of the retina responsible for the sharp, central vision needed to read or drive.
Macular degeneration is diagnosed as either dry (non-neovascular) or wet (neovascular). Dry AMD is an early stage of the disease and may result form aging and thinning of macular tissues, accumulation of yellowish spots known as drusen pigment in the macula or a combination of the two processes. In about 10 percent of cases, dry AMD progresses to the more advanced and damaging form of the eye disease. With wet macular degeneration, new blood vessels grow (neovascularization) beneath the retina and leak blood and fluid. This leakage causes permanent damage to light-sensitive retina cells, which die off and create blind spots in central vision.
Macular degeneration usually produces a slow, or rarely, sudden painless loss of vision. Early signs of vision loss from AMD include shadowy areas in your central vision or unusually fuzzy or distorted vision. Eye care practitioners such as optometrists often detect early signs of macular degeneration before symptoms occur. Usually this is accomplished through a retinal exam. When macular degeneration is suspected, a brief test using an Amsler grid that measures your central vision may be performed.
Treatments for macular degeneration depend on whether the disease is in its early-stage, dry form or in the more advanced, wet form that can lead to serious vision loss. No FDA-approved treatments exist yet for dry macular degeneration, although nutritional intervention may help prevent its progression to the wet form. For wet AMD, treatments aimed at stopping abnormal blood vessel growth include FDA-approved drugs of Lucentis, Avastin and Visudyne used with Photodynamic Therapy or PDT.
For those who have suffered vision loss, many low vision devices are available to help with vision tasks by using magnifying lenses and bright lights. Your optometrists may be able to show you some low vision aids shift images to the periphery for clearer vision.