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Macular Degeneration: Types, Risk Factors, and Prevention

Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration or AMD, is the leading cause of blindness in adults over the age of 55 in the United States. It affects approximately 1.75 million people every year.

AMD occurs when there is damage to the macula, a part of the retina essential for sharp vision. Think of it like scratching the lenses of an expensive camera. Macular degeneration occurs in two forms: dry and wet.

What’s the difference between dry AMD and wet AMD?

Dry AMD occurs when the cells of the macula begin to break down naturally, or when the retina begins to accumulate debris. This causes a progressive blurriness to develop in your vision. Dry AMD is the most common form of AMD, and steps can be taken to prevent its occurrence. Early warning signs can be detected during eye exams by the appearance of small round yellow/white spots around the outer retina. About one in 10 people who have dry AMD will develop wet AMD, a more serious type of AMD.

Wet AMD occurs when new, abnormal blood vessels develop under the retina. These vessels cause retinal scarring, which distorts and destroys the macula. This often occurs in one eye at a time but can develop quickly, resulting in rapid vision loss. Wet AMD accounts for about 15% of all AMD cases but is responsible for 2/3 of cases that result in substantial vision loss. Thankfully, new advances in treatment options have improved the chances of treating wet AMD in its early stages.

Are there risk factors for macular degeneration?

A family history and a person’s age can play a role in one’s chances of developing AMD. However, there are other controllable factors that can also increase the odds of being diagnosed with the disease:

  • A diet comprised of saturated fats
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • High cholesterol
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Long-term exposure to sun without eye protection

You can help mitigate the risk of AMD with regular exercise and a balanced diet of greens, fruit, and other healthy foods.

Is there anything I can do to help detect changes in my dry AMD? 

Because changes in vision can happen gradually in those with dry AMD, it’s imperative that you have regular dilated eye exams to check the progression of the disease. If you’re due for an annual appointment, contact us today.

There’s also a simple routine you can perform daily at home to check for any changes in your vision. An Amsler Grid is a printed pattern that can reveal problem spots in your vision. Another method for tracking changes in your vision is a KeepSight Journal, developed by the American Macular Degeneration Foundation.

Learn more about macular degeneration

Our ophthalmologists offer the latest equipment, technologies, and surgical procedures to diagnose and treat this disease. Watch below as Dr. Gauger provides an overview of AMD, and contact us to make an appointment for an eye exam if you suspect you might be developing AMD.

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