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4 Things to Know About Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of vision loss in the U.S., according to the National Eye Institute.

More than 2 million Americans experience AMD, an eye condition that typically affects those 50 and older. As AMD progresses, it can hinder a person’s ability to read, drive and perform other everyday activities that rely on sight.

February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month, the perfect time to learn more about this common health condition that affects millions of Americans. Here are four things you should know about AMD.

There are Two Forms of Macular Degeneration

AMD can either be wet or dry. Nearly 90 percent of patients have dry macular degeneration. This form of macular degeneration occurs when macular tissues that surround the eyes age and begin to thin. It also can occur when pigment is deposited in the macula, a round area located near the center of the retina. We diagnose dry macular degeneration when yellow spots — which may be the result of damaged tissue — begin to form in and around the macula.

Wet macular degeneration, which occurs in about 10 percent of cases, can lead to serious vision loss. It occurs when dry macular degeneration advances, causing blood and fluid that damage the retina. People with wet macular degeneration will have blind spots in their central vision, making it difficult to see objects that are directly ahead.

There are Several Early Warning Signs

Though AMD rarely leads to blindness, people with this eye condition typically experience a gradual loss of vision.

During the early stages of AMD, your central vision may begin to appear blurry or distorted. If someone has AMD, straight lines will begin to look distorted and they’ll see dark, blurry areas in their central vision or white out that makes it difficult to see an object directly in their line of vision.

Risk Factors Include Family History

If you have a family member with AMD, you are more likely to experience this eye condition, as well. Some studies have shown that most people with AMD have gene mutations that puts them at greater risk for the disease.

Other risk factors include poor diet and age, as up to 20 percent of people between age 65-75 and 40 percent of people over age 75 have the disease. Light colored eyes are another risk factor since AMD is more common in people with blue eyes. Smoking significantly increases your risk for AMD — research shows that it doubles your risk of the disease. AMD also is more common in women than men.

The good news is that healthy lifestyle habits can make an impact. Eat a healthy diet, quit smoking, get more exercise and protect your eyes from excess sun exposure to reduce your risk of AMD.

Prevention is Key

Unfortunately, there is no treatment or cure for AMD. The best approach is prevention and avoiding the lifestyle risk factors I previously mentioned.

If you are at risk for AMD, your doctor likely will give you a dilated eye exam every year to test your vision. This can detect AMD in its early stages and point you towards resources that can  slow the progression of the disease and help you manage the condition. In some cases, a nutritional program that includes supplements, antioxidants and vitamins may be effective in delaying vision loss.

If you are age 50 and older, talk to your doctor or eye care professional about the warning signs of AMD. Make sure you undergo an eye exam every year, because early intervention can give you more treatment options and help you delay vision loss caused by this disease.

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