What is Macular Degeneration?

AMD stands for Age-related Macular Degeneration. Sometimes people simply call it macular degeneration. It’s named after the macula, the small area in the back of your eye that’s responsible for central vision—what you see directly in front of you.

What You Need to Know About Macular Degeneration

To understand AMD, try thinking of your eye as a camera.

Light enters the eye’s lens

Just like a camera, your eye has a lens near the front that focuses light. When the light passes through the lens it lands at the back of your eye, the retina.

Light passes through to the retina

Like film in a camera, the retina captures the shapes and colors of the light to make an image for you to see. The macula is the center of the retina, and it’s responsible for the clarity of the image you see and the vibrancy of the colors.

How a damaged macula affects visions

Having macular degeneration is like using a camera with film that’s partly damaged in the middle. AMD’s effect on your vision depends on the amount of damage in your macula, but no matter how advanced your macular degeneration is, it mainly affects your central vision. AMD is unlikely to affect your peripheral or side vision.

Wet vs. Dry Macular Degeneration

Most people with macular degeneration have the more common form, dry AMD, in one or both eyes. In one out of 10 people, dry AMD progresses to wet AMD.

Dry macular degeneration

Macular degeneration typically starts with the dry form.

Starting around age 50, it’s common for small yellow deposits called drusen to form under the macula. With dry AMD (also called geographic atrophy), there are more and larger drusen, and the macula thins. A number of factors can impact the development of drusen—from genetics to damage from ultraviolet rays and the effects of smoking.

How does dry AMD affect vision? The center of your vision can become wavy and fuzzy. These changes may make it harder to read, recognize faces or see well in poorly lit or dark places. Dry AMD usually worsens slowly and may not become severe, but it can progress to the point of having significant symptoms, including dark spots that can block your central vision.

Wet macular degeneration

Wet AMD, also called neovascular AMD, is a more severe type of macular degeneration. About one in 10 people with dry AMD go on to develop wet AMD in one or both eyes. In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina, leaking blood and fluid that can cause bulging, swelling and permanent scarring of the macula.

How does wet AMD affect vision? With wet AMD, there may be blurry or blind spots in the central vision as well as distortions and a loss in color vision. Wet AMD can seem to appear suddenly and may worsen quickly.

The Stages of Macular Degeneration

While there’s no way to cure macular degeneration, in some people it worsens slowly or stays the same for years. Macular degeneration can be divided into three major stages.

Early AMD

There is typically no change in vision, but a doctor can see medium-size drusen during an eye exam.

Intermediate AMD

An eye exam shows larger drusen or changes in the color of the retina. There may be no symptoms yet or some minor symptoms.

Advanced AMD

There are symptoms such as wavy or blurred vision, blind spots and trouble seeing in low light. Advanced macular degeneration can be dry AMD or wet AMD.

Click here to learn more about what to expect with AMD

Managing Macular Degeneration

There’s no known way to repair the macula and reverse age-related macular degeneration, so managing AMD is geared toward stopping the condition from getting worse—or at least slowing its progression.

Quitting smoking, eating a diet geared to macular health and exercising are just three things you can do that may help you protect your vision if you have dry AMD. You might also want to consider taking an AREDS2 formula vitamin that has been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of progression of the condition.

Click here to learn more about protecting your vision

Wet AMD is typically treated with periodic injections into the eye, but doctors sometimes prescribe laser treatment or laser surgery.

Macular degeneration research

Scientists are researching new ways to treat dry and wet macular degeneration. Several clinical trials are underway exploring new medications, stem cell and gene therapy, and other approaches.

Click here to see the latest news on macular degeneration research

What Causes Macular Degeneration?

You may be wondering why you developed AMD. So many factors can contribute to the condition that it’s impossible to say exactly which have played a role in yours. We do know that some risk factors are beyond our control.

  • Age: In the U.S., one in three people age 80 and older has AMD.
  • Family history: Thanks to genetics, close relatives are three times more likely to develop macular degeneration.
  • Gender: Women get AMD more often than men, but this difference may simply be due to the fact that women tend to live longer than men.
  • Skin color: People with light skin are more likely to develop AMD than people with darker skin.
  • Eye: People with lighter colored eyes may be at higher risk.

Research shows that other risk factors for AMD and its progression may be within our control. You and your close family members can try to reduce these by making changes in your lives.

  • Smoking: People who smoke or live with smokers are considerably more likely to develop AMD.
  • Sun exposure: UV rays from the sun may increase the risk of AMD; sunglasses can protect your eyes.
  • Diet: A high-fat diet is linked to an increased risk; some foods such as dark leafy greens, along with eye vitamins, may help protect vision.
  • High blood pressure and cholesterol levels: Unmanaged, these conditions can increase the risk of macular degeneration and its progression.
  • Obesity: Being obese is linked to a significant increase in the risk of AMD.
  • Inactivity: Lack of aerobic exercise may be linked to macular degeneration; being active may slow its progression.
  • Medications: Some antipsychotics and malaria treatments may increase the risk of AMD.

The Sight Matters AMD Action Plan is designed to help you manage the controllable risk factors for macular degeneration and its progression.

Click here to make your Action Plan!

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