What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is a retinal disease that occurs when the macula, the central part of the retina that processes fine-detail central vision, begins to gradually deteriorate most often due to age. It is the leading cause of legal blindness in the United States among people over 50 years of age.

The loss of central vision associated with AMD does not cause complete blindness, but loss of central vision makes it more difficult to read, do up-close work, see faces, or drive negatively impacting quality of life.

Types of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

There are two types of AMD:

Dry AMD

Dry AMD is the most common form of AMD, affecting approximately 85% to 90% of people who have the disease. In dry AMD, tiny yellow deposits of protein called drusen slowly accumulate underneath the macula. This leads to the thinning and drying out of the macula, which causes it to lose functionality, and central vision loss is directly related to the thinning caused by the drusen. There is no known cure for dry AMD although it tends to progress slowly. However, about 10% of those with dry AMD will develop “wet” AMD which can cause rapid vision loss.

Wet AMD

In the “wet” type of AMD, there is a growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina and macula. If these blood vessels leak, the fluid can buildup and cause the macula to bulge or lift up from its normal position leading to the distortion or destruction of central vision. Vision loss can be rapid and any sudden change in central vision requires prompt dilated eye examination. Once wet AMD develops in one eye, there is a high chance the other eye will develop it as well.

Symptoms of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Symptoms of age-related macular degeneration can include:

  • Dark or blurry spots in central vision
  • Straight lines appearing wavy or distorted
  • Difficulty reading or seeing details in low light environments
  • Change in color perception
  • Difficulty recognizing faces

What Causes Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

You are more likely to develop AMD if you:

  • Are over the age of 60
  • Have a family history of AMD
  • Are Caucasian
  • Smoke
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have heart disease or high cholesterol levels

Diagnosis of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

AMD can be diagnosed through a comprehensive dilated eye examination in which your retina and macula are visually examined for signs of AMD. In addition, you may be asked to look at an Amsler grid which can indicate distorted, wavy, blurry, or blank spots in your central vision. 

An ophthalmologist may also perform fluorescein angiography, which involves injecting a yellow dye into a vein. The dye travels through the blood vessels in the retina allowing them to be photographed with a special camera. This shows if there is growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina that might affect the macula.

Optical coherence tomography (OCT) and optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA) are additional diagnosis options. OCT uses light waves to take cross-section images of the retina to reveal its layers and to map and measure its thickness. OCTA is another noninvasive imaging technique that can capture blood flow in the vessels of the retina without the need for injecting dye.

What are the Treatment Options for Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Dry AMD Treatment

There are currently no effective treatments for dry AMD, although your ophthalmologist may recommend certain vitamin and mineral supplements to slow its progress. In addition, a nutrient-rich diet that includes dark leafy greens, yellow fruits and vegetables, and fish have also proven beneficial for those with AMD.

Wet AMD Treatment

Wet AMD can be treated with intraocular injections of medications called anti-VEGF drugs that slow blood vessel leaking and reduces the number of abnormal blood vessels in the retina. Another option for treating wet AMD is laser surgery in which laser light is used to seal leaky blood vessels. Your ophthalmologist will discuss with you which treatment options are appropriate for your case.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration Treatment at Dean McGee Eye Institute

The Dean McGee Eye Institute is the only nationally-ranked eye institute in the state and a leading provider of treatment for age-related macular degeneration. We have the skill, expert knowledge, and advanced technology to provide you with superior care. If you or a loved one suffer from AMD, or are at risk for developing it, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with one of our retina and vitreous specialists by calling 405.271.1092 or 800.787.9014.