Ask the Doc: What is Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)?

Age-related macular degeneration affects more than 10 million Americans. AMD is a common, progressive eye condition that causes damage to the macula, a small spot near the center of the retina. The macula is the part of the eye that allows us to clearly see objects that are straight ahead. AMD has few symptoms in its early stages and could go unrecognized until progression or when it begins to affect both eyes. The first sign of AMD is usually distortion of straight lines. Additional symptoms include distortion of the center of vision with dark, blurry or “white out” areas, and diminished or changed color perception.

AMD does not cause complete blindness, only central blindness, leaving only dim images or black holes at the center of vision.

There are two types of AMD: “wet” and “dry.” Dry macular degeneration affects the majority of individuals with AMD. Two things occur with dry – a thinning of the tissue and the formation of small white or yellowish deposits, referred to as ‘drusen,’ causing deterioration over time. All AMD starts as the dry type and can eventually progress to the wet type.

Wet macular degeneration affects fewer people with AMD, but accounts for the majority of all cases of severe vision loss from the disease. In wet macular degeneration, abnormal blood vessels underneath the retina start to grow through the thin area toward the macula. These abnormal blood vessels typically break, bleed and leak fluid. This damages the macula, causing it to lift up and pull away from the base, quickly resulting in severe loss of central vision.

While there’s no cure for AMD, treatments are available for the wet form and research is being done on treatments for the dry form. In some patients, AMD advances so slowly that vision loss doesn’t occur for a long time, but in others the disease progresses quickly, leading to vision loss in one or both eyes.

AMD is most likely to occur after the age of 50, but it can happen earlier. Other risk factors for AMD include smoking, race (Caucasians are more likely to develop AMD than African Americans or Hispanics and Latinos) and family history. Routine comprehensive eye exams are critical for early detection of AMD. Schedule your complete and pain-free eye exam today by calling Illinois Eye Center at (309) 243-2400.” – Dr. Pete Lagouros, fellowship-trained specialist in vitreo-retinal diseases

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