Age-related macular degeneration, often shortened to simply macular degeneration or AMD, is the leading cause of vision loss among people age 50 and older. Unfortunately, doctors worry that macular degeneration will become even more prevalent over the next few decades.
“As the ‘baby boom’ generation ages, and in the absence of further prevention and treatment advances, the prevalence of AMD is estimated to reach epidemic proportions of 6.3 million Americans by the year 2030,” said Dr. Carl Kupfer, former Director of the National Eye Institute at the National Institute of Health.
What is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a common eye disorder characterized by deterioration of the macula, a region within the retina responsible for processing sharp, central vision.
The disorder is typically divided into three stages.
- Early stage macular degeneration typically has no noticeable symptoms – however, signs of retinal deterioration known as drusen would be visible during a comprehensive, dilated eye exam.
- Intermediate stage macular degeneration is more likely to result in vision loss, but many people still experience no symptoms. A comprehensive eye exam would reveal larger drusen and microscopic changes in retinal pigment.
- Late stage macular degeneration is characterized by vision loss, particularly in the center of the visual field. People with late stage macular degeneration may be considered legally blind depending on the severity of their symptoms.
Macular degeneration is also divided into two subtypes: wet (exudative) and dry (atrophic). The vast majority of people with macular degeneration are diagnosed with the dry type, whereas 10 to 15 percent are diagnosed with the wet type. Wet macular degeneration has a faster, more severe onset.
What causes macular degeneration?
Researchers don’t know all of the factors that lead to macular degeneration, although some have been uncovered.
- People who smoke are at a particular risk of developing macular degeneration. In fact, smoking doubles the risk of the disorder.
- According to the National Eye Institute, macular degeneration is more common in older white individuals than people of other races.
- Individuals with a family history of macular degeneration are at an increased risk of developing the disorder themselves.
If you meet these criteria and are older than 50 years old, it is imperative that you receive regular vision checkups. Individuals who meet none of these criteria should receive checkups as well, since they can still develop the disorder.
How do you treat macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration cannot be cured. However, it can be managed through medications, lifestyle changes and certain surgical procedures. The earlier macular degeneration is diagnosed, the more likely you are to keep your vision.