Macular degeneration, often called AMD or ARMD (age-related macular degeneration), is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in Americans aged 65 and older. Because older people represent an increasingly larger percentage of the general population, vision loss associated with AMD is a growing problem.
AMD occurs with degeneration of the macula, which is the part of the retina responsible for the sharp, central vision needed to read or drive. Because the macula primarily is affected in AMD, central vision loss may occur.
Macular Degeneration Symptoms and Signs
Macular degeneration usually produces a slow, or rarely, sudden painless loss of vision. Early signs of vision loss associated with AMD can include seeing shadowy areas in your central vision or experiencing unusually fuzzy or distorted vision.
Viewing a chart of black lines arranged in a graph pattern (Amsler grid) is one way to tell if you are having these vision problems.
An eyecare practitioner often detects early signs of macular degeneration before symptoms occur. Usually this is accomplished through a retinal examination. When macular degeneration is suspected, a brief test using an Amsler grid that measures your central vision may be performed. If the eyecare practitioner detects some defect in your central vision, such as distortion or blurriness, he or she may order a fluorescein angiography to specifically examine the retinal blood vessels surrounding the macula.
How Macular Degeneration is treated
There is as yet no outright cure for macular degeneration, but some treatments may delay its progression or even improve vision.
Treatments for macular degeneration depend on whether the disease is in its early stage or dry form or more advanced, wet form that can lead to serious vision loss. There are no FDA-approved treatments for dry macular degeneration, although nutritional intervention may be valuable in preventing its progression to the more advanced, wet form.
For wet AMD, treatments aimed at stopping abnormal blood vessel growth include FDA-approved drugs of Macugen and Visudyne used with Photodynamic Therapy or PDT. Some new investigative treatments such as Lucentis and Avastin are showing promise for possibly even reducing vision loss in a significant number of macular degeneration patients.