What is Age Related Macular Degeneration?
As the name implies, Age Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD) is an eye disease that is primarily triggered by age. There are two types of ARMD, wet and dry. Either can affect one or both eyes. The dry form is more prevalent, occurring in 90% of the cases. It’s slow to develop and vision loss is gradual, although not necessarily severe. The wet form is much more damaging, causing rapid and severe vision loss.
Even though vision loss is not complete, it is significant enough for an individual to be considered legally blind and for quality of life to be severely affected.
Vision loss is not total because ARMD affects the central vision, not the peripheral vision. When the macula is damaged, a person cannot create a clearly detailed image. Since the macula is in the center of the retina, central vision is affected. The macula is a group of nerve cells that utilize light to create and send images to the retina.
Symptoms of ARMD
Those affected by ARMD will notice a spot in their vision that is clearly indistinguishable. For example, when looking directly at an image of a person, legs and head will be clearly visible, but the body itself, the part right in the center of vision, will appear to be covered with an area that appears either empty or dark. Besides blurred vision, straight lines may seem wavy and a person may not be able to recognize images that should be familiar.
Who is at risk?
Age is a primary risk factor of ARMD, with the majority of the cases developing in individuals aged 60 and over. However, hereditary and the environment can also trigger the onset of the dry form of this eye disease. Females develop ARMD more often than men.
Free radicals cause much of the cell damage that occurs inside the retina therefore cigarette smoking and hypertension increase the risks of developing ARMD. Those who do not eat a nutritionally-balanced diet may also be at risk as they are not providing the body with the antioxidant protection it needs to inhibit the damage caused by free radicals.
It’s difficult to detect ARMD. The dry form is slow to develop, and generally develops only in one eye. The unaffected eye compensates for the damaged eye, so symptoms are not readily noticeable.
Yellow deposits called drusen on the retina can usually be observed during an eye exam. The eye chart and dilating the pupils are two methods of detection. When wet ARMD is suspected, the eye doctor will use an Amsler grid or fluorescein angiography.
Unfortunately, no treatment can restore this type of eye damage. Glasses will not help, but vision aids and counseling can help a person adjust to life with a reduced vision loss.
Laser surgery treatments and photodynamic therapy have had limited success on wet Age Related Macular Degeneration. Other treatment options such as medication and radiation are still being studied.