Macular Degeneration can develop at any age, but it is also a common part of the aging process, where it is referred to as "age-related macular degeneration," or AMD. It occurs as your macula deteriorates. The macula is near the centre of the retina (the tissue at the back of the eye that is sensitive to light) and is what allows us to distinguish color and make out fine detail.
As the macula degenerates, a small spot or blurriness appears in the middle of the field of vision, which makes it difficult to see clearly. Over time, this obstruction may increase in size, effectively blocking the view of objects directly in front of the person. While the peripheral vision (the vision off to the side) usually remains intact, some activities that may have been once taken for granted, such as reading, hobbies, sports, or even recognizing the face of a loved one, may no longer be possible.
AMD Takes 2 Forms: Dry AMD and Wet AMD
For Dry AMD, including geographic atrophy, there are no standard treatments currently available, however, research is under way and many promising experimental treatments are currently being evaluated.
Wet AMD is more severe and involves leakage from blood vessels into the retina, leading to damage and, in turn, rapid loss of vision. there are treatment options. Your eye doctor will refer you to a retina specialist (an ophthalmologist who has done additional specialized training in treatment of retinal diseases).
A class of medications known as anti-VEGF (anti-vascular endothelial growth factor) can help shrink or even eliminate the abnormal blood vessels that form under the macula in wet AMD. These include ranibizumab (Lucentis), bevacizumab (Avastin), and aflibercept (Eylea). They are injected into the eye directly, and often several injections are necessary over the course of months or years. Anti-VEGF therapy has had a high success rate in stabilizing or reversing the abnormal vessels, and many patients experience improved vision, as well. Laser surgery is another option. Researchers working on new medications hope that one day these can counter this degenerative disease.
If you have a family history of AMD, speak to your eye doctor about your chances of having inherited this condition. Additional risk factors include smoking, damage from ultraviolet light, eye injuries or infections, high blood pressure, diabetes, and hardening of the arteries in the eye.
There is no cure for AMD but early detection plays a key role in the success of treatment – so be sure to have regular eye examinations with your eye care professional. While certain vitamin combinations, such as those containing beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, zinc, leutine, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids, are known to delay the progression of Dry AMD, they cannot stop it completely nor reverse any damage already done.
While vision loss can lead to feelings of isolation, keep in mind that macular degeneration is a common condition and plenty of help and support is available.