Prevent Blindness, the nation's oldest volunteer eye health and safety organization, has declared February as Age-related Macular Degeneration/Low Vision Awareness Month. Dr. Stewart Shofner explains why this awareness month is so important, especially for people over the age of 50.
What is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is when a part of the retina called the macula becomes damaged due to deterioration or breakdown of the macula. The macula is a small area in the retina at the back of the eye that allows you to see fine details clearly and perform activities, such as reading and driving.
What are the symptoms?
When the macula does not function correctly, blurriness, dark areas or distortion can affect your central vision. Macular degeneration affects your ability to see near and far, and can make some activities -- like threading a needle or reading -- difficult or impossible. Although macular degeneration reduces vision in the central part of the retina, it usually does not affect the eye's side (peripheral) vision. For example, you could see the outline of a clock but not be able to tell what time it is.
Over 1.65 million Americans have Macular degeneration and is the leading cause of vision loss in people ages 65 and older. Even in more advanced cases, people continue to have some useful vision and are often able to take care of themselves. In many cases, macular degeneration's impact on your vision can be minimal. There are two different types of AMD: dry and wet.
· Most common form of the disease (about 80% people have dry form)
· Macula deteriorates
· Causes a blurred central vision or blind spots
· Can progress to wet AMD at any time
· Abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina and leak fluid and blood into the macula
· Visual distortions occur (straight lines appear wavy, street signs look lopsided)
· Symptoms usually appear and progress rapidly
Differences between Dry and Wet AMD
People lose vision faster with wet AMD than with dry AMD. Many don’t realize they have AMD until their vision is very blurry. This is why it is important to have regular visits with an ophthalmologist. He or she can look for early signs of AMD before you have any vision problems.
Who’s at Risk?
Risk factors are similar for both dry and wet AMD. They include:
· Older than 50
· Family history of AMD
· History of smoking
· High blood pressure/cholesterol
· Lack of vitamins prevalent in fruits and vegetables
To help reduce your risk of vision loss, there are several actions you can take to have healthy eyesight. Dr. Shofner suggests scheduling regular dilated eye exams, wearing UV protective sunglasses, quitting smoking, and wearing safety eye protection in hazardous situations.
Additionally, a recent National Eye Institute study indicates that high dosage supplements of zinc, vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene may slow the progression of both forms of AMD, but they are not a cure. “We offer the highest quality vision supplements at our office, however it’s very important to consult with your physician before taking any nutritional supplements,” says Dr. Shofner.
If you have experienced vision changes or at high risk for AMD, we encourage you to contact Shofner Vision Center to schedule an appointment online or call us at (615) 340-4733.