February 13, 2019

What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?


Read the full NZ Herald article here

Our eyes are our bridge to the world, so when we start to have problems seeing it can cause a lot of frustration. As we start to get older, many parts of our body begin to experience wear and tear, and one way this happens to the eyes is the condition known as Age-Related Macular Degeneration, or AMD. This is a blanket term for problems affecting the macula, which is the main seeing part of the retina.

AMD is the leading cause of legal blindness in New Zealand and is the most common cause of vision loss in adults aged 50 or over. Therefore, it’s important that during Age-Related Macular Degeneration Month this February, we talk through what AMD is, as well as discuss possible causes and treatment. Read on below!

What is the macula?

The eye is a wonderfully complex system that contains a lens which focuses light to form an image on a thin layer in the back part of the eyeball. This thin layer is the retina, and it converts the light striking it into an electrical signal which can be processed by the brain into your vision. The middle part of the retina, which corresponds with your sharp, clear and colourful middle vision, is called the macula. If it is damaged or obscured, then your central vision can get foggy and less colourful, or you can get blind spots.

The Different Kinds of AMD

The first way an eye doctor will categorise your form of AMD is by its stage of progression. Early AMD can be diagnosed by the presence of small yellow deposits known as drusen that typically won’t affect vision. Accompanying pigment changes in the eye correspond with intermediate AMD, which can cause some loss of central vision. Most patients can still see fine at this stage.

The serious vision loss occurs with late AMD, which has two different causes. Dry AMD is simply the gradual breakdown of macula cells and supporting cells, while wet AMD is caused by abnormal blood vessels growing under the retina which can cause swelling or damage in the macula by leaking fluid or blood.

Causes and Prevention

Not all people with early or intermediate AMD will develop the more severe late stage - it depends on both your lifestyle and genetics. Smoking is strongly linked with developing AMD, so quitting smoking is a major step you can make to help keep your vision. Of course, like with a lot of things, eating healthy and incorporating a diet with plenty of antioxidant-rich foods and exercising regularly also reduce your risk.

Then, there’s the genetic factor - over 20 genes have already been discovered which influence AMD risk. This complexity makes it difficult to perform a genetic test to determine risk, so it’s important to have regular eye exams so your eye doctor can recognise the visual symptoms early.

How can AMD be treated?

Your optometrist or ophthalmologist typically won’t treat early or intermediate AMD but will probably recommend that you maintain a healthy lifestyle and consider dietary supplements in order to slow down your vision loss. In late AMD, they may recommend highly effective injections into the eye, but it’s important to know that these aren’t necessarily cures, and also are only applicable to wet AMD. This is because they focus on treating the abnormal blood vessels that cause this condition, or breaking down the proteins which promote their growth - so they won’t be helpful for dry AMD.

Not seeing like you used to?

When you’re having problems with your vision, you’re having problems with the way you interact with the world. It’s no small matter, and that’s why you need to put yourself in the best professionals’ hands. At Re:Vision Sight Correction Centre, we’re committed to helping you get back the way you used to see the world. If you suspect you could be suffering from early signs of AMD, get in touch today. At Re:Vision Sight Correction Centre we’re all about vision. We’re in numerous cities/towns around the North Island and we even offer free laser vision treatment assessments, so there’s no reason not to contact us right away - it could be the first step you take to enhance your vision.

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