An essential guide
The back of the eye is covered with a sensitive nerve layer called the retina. The central area of the retina is called the macula. This is responsible for fine detailed vision; reading, writing and recognising faces. Macular Degeneration is generally an age related condition which results in difficulty with these tasks.
What is macular degeneration?
Macular Degeneration is caused by damage to the macula. In its most common form, it is an age related condition - Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).
This is by far the most common form of AMD. It is caused by gradual build-up of waste products within the retina. In the early stages, these may have little or no effect on vision. Progression to severe vision loss is usually gradual, over many years. Dry AMD can become Wet AMD.
Wet AMD happens when abnormal blood vessels grow behind the macula and leak fluid. This pushes the macula away from its blood supply at the back of the eye and causes a rapid loss of vision.
I was very impressed when I recently suffered problems with my eyesight. The staff at this branch responded very quickly when I explained the symptoms and I was given an emergency appointment. The problem was identified immediately as Macular Degeneration and this diagnosis was confirmed at the Edinburgh Eye Pavilion. Frederick Street, Edinburgh Patient
Does AMD cause blindness?
As AMD affects your central vision only you will not lose your sight completely from this condition. Your peripheral vision will remain, allowing you to see well enough to get around. It is however, the leading cause of sight loss in the western world and we must ensure we do all we can to prevent and treat this condition.
What treatments are available?
There are currently no treatments for dry AMD, although taking eye supplements may slow down the progression. People with this condition should attend for regular eye examinations and keep their glasses up to date.
Wet AMD can often be treated if it is caught early enough. Whilst your vision may not return to the same level it was previously, it can help to restore some useful vision. Ask your optometrist for more information.
What are the symptoms of AMD?
Changes in vision with dry AMD are gradual, happening slowly over longer periods of time. Patients may notice difficultly reading, or with subtitles and signs. This may be more marked in dim light or bright sunlight.
Contrastingly, changes to vision from wet AMD can happen suddenly. It is therefore important to spot any changes quickly as prompt treatment is more likely to maintain good vision. You should check for distortion (a straight line looking bent or wavy). Other symptoms may be a blank spot in the centre of your vision or a 'washed out' look where colours become much less intense.
If you notice any of these symptoms you should book an appointment to see your optometrist immediately.
Risk factors for AMD
- Increasing age
- A family history of the disease
- Female gender
- Ethnicity (caucasians are more at risk)
- Light iris colour
- Low macular protective pigment levels
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease
- Poor diet