As one of the most prolific and unforgiving eye diseases in America, age-related macular degeneration (or AMD) is well known for its ability to strip individuals of their normal vision. Primarily caused by a natural degradation of the retina over time, there is no single trigger which can be avoided to prevent the development of AMD. That said, at the Twin Lakes Vision Clinic, there is plenty we can do in terms of early diagnosis and management of the disease.
AMD affects millions of Americans every single year, and since there is no cure, that number is always on the rise. Early diagnosis is critical.
AMD acts by attacking the macula – the part of the retina responsible for our clear, sharp central vision (AKA, everything that we see directly in front of us). While this sounds like an obvious and probably unmissable symptom, AMD – like glaucoma and many other eye diseases – acts quietly and subtly over time.
The visual impairment is slow, and in most cases the individual will not realize there is a problem with their vision until the condition is quite far advanced. That is why eye exams are so crucial in identifying signs of AMD early on; in most cases, it’s the only way to get ahead of the disease’s progression.
We use specialized imaging technology to assess AMD’s progression. In certain instances, we may refer you to an external clinic for additional diagnostics, but in most cases this is not necessary.
There are two types of age-related macular degeneration, called dry (atrophic) and wet (exudative) – they are similar in how they are caused, but quite different in symptoms and severity.
In relative terms, this is the less serious form of the disease. However, it can cause significant and permanent impairment to your vision if left undiagnosed. As the retina degrades, most patients will experience a build up of white proteins in the eyeball, known as drusen. Drusen are responsible for creating dark, opaque spots in our vision.
If untreated, the number of drusen could continue to grow to the point where your vision is substantially impaired. Many individuals manage to live quite easily and normally with a small number of permanent drusen.
Weak blood vessels around the macula can degenerate over time and will more easily rupture, spilling blood and other fluids into the eye. Since these leakages occur in the retina, central vision can be impaired to the point of blindness.
Even more seriously is the fact that these weakened blood vessels may die and be left as scar tissue which can pull at the retina, potentially causing a retinal detachment. In many cases a retinal detachment can be repaired and sight restored. However, scar tissue can compound complications and prevent recovery, potentially resulting in permanent blindness.
By using advanced imaging equipment, your optometrist can examine the blood vessels of the macula in exceptional detail. Since vision impairment is caused by fluids leaking from these vessels, a deduction can be made on the advancement and severity of the condition through visual assessment.
Testing on your central vision will also be conducted to confirm the diagnosis, since it is this part of our eyesight which is affected by the condition.
While there is no cure for either form of macular degeneration, Dr. Mast should be able to recommend certain lifestyle and dietary changes which can limit the progression of the disease and hopefully preserve any remaining and unobscured vision. For wet AMD, it may be possible to use laser therapy or intravitreal injections to seal leaking blood vessels and prevent further impairment in that eye.