Age-related macular degeneration, often referred to as AMD, is a medical condition which usually affects older adults. This vision stealing disease is a result of degeneration to the macula, and results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field because of damage to the retina. It occurs in "dry" and "wet" forms and is a major cause of blindness and visual impairment in adults over the age of 50. Macular degeneration can make it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces, although enough peripheral vision remains to allow other activities of daily life.
The "dry" form of advanced AMD, results from atrophy of the retinal pigment epithelial layer below the retina, which causes vision loss due to the damage of photoreceptors, also known as rods and cones, in the central part of the eye.
The "wet" form of advanced AMD, causes vision loss due to abnormal blood vessel growth, ultimately leading to blood and protein leakage below the macula. Bleeding, leaking, and scarring from these blood vessels eventually cause irreversible damage to the photoreceptors and rapid vision loss if left untreated. Fortunately, only about 10% of patients suffering from macular degeneration have the “wet” type.
Macular degeneration is not painful, which may allow it to go unnoticed for some time. For this reason, regular eye examinations are important.
While approximately 10% of patients age 66 to 74 will have findings of macular degeneration, the prevalence increases to 30% in patients 75 to 85 years of age. Family history may also play a factor.
The good news is that regular eye exams, early detection and new treatment options, enable doctors to maintain and in some cases, increase visual acuity in patients.