More than one million Canadians suffer from age-related macular degeneration. This common disease is also the leading cause of blindness in Canada. The effects can be minimized or delayed with early detection and proper management. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is better understood by describing the structure and function of the macula at the back of the eye.
The macula is located in the center of the retina. It exists as a small group of cells that react to light. Their high sensitivity allows us to see fine details, which gives us the ability to read and recognize faces.
As your macula degenerates, vision becomes distorted or blurry. Over time, your field of vision can develop empty spaces or your central vision can become darkened. Left untreated, AMD can cause complete loss of central vision.
Your macula is damaged in two different ways, leading to two different forms of age-related macular degeneration: Wet and dry.
Dry AMD is a great deal more common and much less severe than the wet form. Fatty deposits called drusen accumulate under the central retina around the macula, causing disruption and displacement of the intricate photoreceptors. This condition can cause gradual central vision loss, distortion of vision, or suddenly turn into wet AMD.
Wet AMD is often the more severe version of this condition. It is called “wet” because of the leaking blood vessels that cause it. As the blood vessels in your retina begin to break down due to age they are replaced by weaker vessels. Because of this fragility, they break and leak, which scars and damages the macular tissue. Careful monitoring can help avoid permanent vision loss.
Early detection is crucial to reduce the damage caused by this disease. During your comprehensive eye exam, the optometrist will do multiple tests to check for irregularities in your vision and examine your retinas through dilated pupils. You may be given an Amsler grid to monitor your vision. It is made of vertical and horizontal lines that may appear wavy or curved to those with AMD. If age-related macular degeneration has developed to the point of vision loss there may be additional dark spots or blank areas in the grid.
Another method of identifying this condition is through optical coherence tomography (OCT). OCT is a painless procedure that creates a high-resolution image of your eye tissue using light rays. Through these images, optometrists are able to see underlying issues before they become serious, and irreversible.
There is no cure for age-related macular degeneration, but there are treatments. Ocular injections and laser therapy have proven useful against the progression of this disease in cases of wet AMD. Proper nutrition and vitamin intake help to prevent early AMD. UV protection sunglasses are also beneficial. Lifestyle choices such as smoking cessation and reduced alcohol consumption can improve your chances of not developing this condition.
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