What Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration? How to Lower Your Risk of Getting It

October 29, 2020

Wondering what age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is? Our Calgary optometrist explains why this eye disease occurs and provides some tips on how you can lower your risk of developing it.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the leading causes of vision loss among those who are 60 or older. Considered an incurable eye disease, the symptoms of AMD include:

While there is currently no cure for AMD as mentioned before, there are effective ways of slowing down its progression and steps you can take to lower your risk of developing this eye disease. We'll explore both of these topics a little later on in the article.

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What Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs when the central part of the retina deteriorates, generally due to the natural biological degradation our bodies experience as a result of the aging process. This portion of the eye is responsible for recording the images we see and relaying that information to our brain. The macula of our eye, which is the aforementioned central part of the retina, is in charge of focusing our central vision and is the part of our eye that we use to recognize colours and faces, read, drive a car, and discern fine details in objects. 

There are three stages and two different types of AMD. The two types are known colloquially as "dry" and "wet". Around 85-90 per cent of AMD cases are of the dry variety and the wet type makes up the remainder.

In the dry version of the disease, small yellow deposits called drusen begin forming in the macula. As time goes on and more deposits develop, the light-sensitive cells in the macula atrophy or thin out and eventually die. The wet type of this disease causes blood vessels to grow beneath your macula. Those new blood vessels then end up leaking blood and fluid into your retina, which can result in the symptom listed above which causes straight lines to look wavy. Eventually, these blood vessels and the blood they leak will lead to a scar developing, resulting in permanent central vision loss. 

The three stages of AMD are: 

Early: Generally no vision loss or symptoms are present at this point. Early AMD is usually diagnosed by an optometrist who detects a medium-sized drusen during an annual eye exam.

Intermediate: Some vision loss may have already occurred at this point, or there still may be no symptoms or warning signs. Specialized tests conducted by your optometrist during your regular eye exam may alert you to the fact that you have intermediate AMD.

Late: By this stage, vision loss has become very noticeable for the person afflicted with AMD.


AMD Treatments

Certain measures may delay the progression of AMD. These measures are determined by what stage the AMD is in. To stop dry AMD from progressing to wet AMD, nutritional supplements are usually recommended. While there are no Health Canada-approved treatments to halt the progression from dry to wet, nutritional intervention may succeed in doing so. 

For those who have wet AMD, surgical intervention is generally advised in order to stop the growth of the abnormal blood vessel so the patient's vision may remain at its current state. Drugs may also be used in an attempt to improve vision, with Lucentis having achieved this for a significant amount of people with AMD.


How to Lower Your Risk of Developing AMD

While the single greatest risk factor for AMD, age, cannot be delayed, there are other things you can do to lower your risk of developing this eye disease. This includes: 

Doing the above will help you prevent AMD from developing but there are other risk factors such as genetics and race that are out of your control. If you are over the age of 45 you should be seeing your eye doctor at least once every two to four years for a comprehensive eye exam. This will help detect AMD or any other eye diseases such as cataracts or glaucoma early on, greatly increasing your chances of effectively managing the condition and saving your vision.

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If you have any questions or concerns about your eye health or vision, My Optometrist Calgary has you covered. Contact one of our My Optometrist Calgary clinics at either 403-256-0606 (Health First Optometry), 403-291-0923 (Sunridge Vision Centre), or 403-443-2040 (Three Hills Optometry).


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