Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a deterioration or breakdown of the eye’s macula. The macula is a small area in the retina — the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye. The macula is the part of the retina that is responsible for your central vision, allowing you to see fine details clearly.
Many older people develop macular degeneration as part of the body’s natural aging process. There are different kinds of macular problems, but the most common is age-related macular degeneration.
Symptoms of AMD
With macular degeneration, you may have symptoms such as blurriness, dark areas or distortion in your central vision, and perhaps permanent loss of your central vision. It usually does not affect your side, or peripheral vision. For example, with advanced macular degeneration, you could see the outline of a clock, yet may not be able to see the hands of the clock to tell what time it is.
Causes of AMD
Causes of macular degeneration include the formation of deposits called drusen under the retina, and in some cases, the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina. With or without treatment, macular degeneration alone almost never causes total blindness. People with more advanced cases of macular degeneration continue to have useful vision using their side, or peripheral vision. In many cases, macular degeneration’s impact on your vision can be minimal.
When macular degeneration does lead to loss of vision, it usually begins in just one eye, though it may affect the other eye later. Many people are not aware that they have macular degeneration until they have a noticeable vision problem or until it is detected during an eye examination.
Test of AMD
Using an Amsler grid to test for macular degeneration If you have been diagnosed with dry macular degeneration, you should use a chart called an Amsler grid every day to monitor your vision, as dry macular degeneration can change into the more damaging wet form. To use the Amsler grid, wear your reading glasses and hold the grid 12 to 15 inches away from your face in good light.
- Cover one eye.
- Look directly at the center dot with the uncovered eye and keep your eye focused on it.
- While looking directly at the center dot, note whether all lines of the grid are straight or if any areas are distorted, blurry or dark.
- Repeat this procedure with the other eye.
- If any area of the grid looks wavy, blurred or dark, contact your ophthalmologist.
- If you detect any changes when looking at the grid, you should notify your ophthalmologist immediately.
Dry AMD and nutritional supplements
Unfortunately, at this time there is no single proven treatment for the dry form of macular degeneration. However, a large scientific study has shown that antioxidant vitamins and zinc may reduce the impact of macular degeneration in some people by slowing its progression toward more advanced stages.
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) showed that among people at high risk for developing late-stage, or wet, macular degeneration (such as those who have large amounts of drusen or who have significant vision loss in at least one eye), taking a dietary supplement of vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene, along with zinc, lowered the risk of macular degeneration progressing to advanced stages by about 25 percent. The daily supplements also reduced the risk of vision loss for those at risk by about 19 percent. The supplements did not appear to provide a benefit for people with minimal macular degeneration or people without evidence of the disease during the course of the study.
Another large study in women showed a benefit from taking folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12. And a large study evaluating the possible benefits of lutein and fish oil (omega-3) is ongoing. Other studies have shown that eating dark leafy greens, and yellow, orange and other colorful fruits and vegetables, rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, may reduce your risk for developing macular degeneration.
These vitamins and minerals are recommended in specific daily amounts in addition to a healthy, balanced diet. Some people may not wish to take large doses of antioxidants or zinc because of medical reasons. Beta carotene has been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers or recent past smokers, so this supplement should not be used by people who currently smoke or recently quit smoking.
It is very important to remember that vitamin supplements are not a cure for macular degeneration, nor will they give you back vision that you may have already lost from the disease. However, specific amounts of these supplements do play a key role in helping some people at high risk for developing advanced (wet) AMD to maintain their vision.
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