The Importance of Early Detection
Despite what we learned watching cartoons as children, it takes more than eating a lot of carrots to keep our eyes healthy. Regular eye care is important for vision and eye health. Macular degeneration is one of many eye conditions that can be prevented or managed with routine eye examinations.
How is age-related macular degeneration diagnosed?
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that can happen as people age. With AMD, the center part of the retina, called the macula, breaks down or thins. AMD often causes blurry or distorted vision. Because the middle of the retina is damaged it can be hard to see things right in front of you.1
Regular eye examinations
It is important to get regular eye exams. Eye doctors can tell if someone has AMD with an examination and a few simple tests. People with AMD often have yellow buildup, called drusen, under the macula. An eye doctor can see if there is drusen by examining the eye.1
Amsler grid test
There are also tests to diagnose AMD. The Amsler grid test is one that is commonly used. With this test, a person looks at a dot on a grid. If the lines around the dot are wavy or missing there is a good chance they have AMD.1
Technological advances in AMD diagnosis
It can be hard to tell if someone has AMD before the disease has damaged the eyes. New technology has made it easier for doctors to find small changes in vision that can happen before AMD causes permanent vision loss.2
Delayed dark adaptation
One of these new tests looks at delayed dark adaptation. This means the test measures how long it takes for the eyes to adjust to darkness. Delayed dark adaptation is one of the earliest signs of AMD.2
Getting an early diagnosis and treatment before the eyes have been damaged can help preserve vision.1,2
What happens if AMD is not treated?
AMD can get worse over time if it is not treated. Some people may get a blind spot that can keep getting bigger. Eventually, AMD can cause severe and permanent loss of vision.1
Most people start with the dry form of AMD where the retina has thinned. Without treatment, it can turn into wet AMD, which is a more serious form of the disease.1
Wet AMD is caused by abnormal blood vessels in the retina that can leak blood or fluid. This can scar the macula and create a blind spot that grows over time.1
Up to 78 percent of people who have wet AMD may have already lost a significant portion of their sight by the time they get treatment for their AMD. Unfortunately, some of this damage cannot be fixed. About 37 percent of those people are legally blind in at least one eye.2
Lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk of AMD
Along with getting regular eye exams, there are several things you can do to help reduce your risk of getting AMD. These lifestyle changes can also help slow the disease if you already have AMD:3
- Don’t smoke. Smoking is a risk factor for AMD.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can increase your risk of getting AMD.
- Reduce alcoholic drinks. Drinking 3 or more alcoholic drinks per day can increase risk.
- Eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Foods like fish, nuts, and seeds can reduce your risk.
- Eat a healthy diet that includes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity 3 times a week can reduce your risk.
- Ask your doctor about vitamins or supplements that can help support eye health. Some supplements have been shown to help people who are already at greater risk of getting AMD.
The link between AMD and Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is another age-related condition. It affects the central nervous system, including the brain. AD can also affect the retina and is linked to a higher chance of getting AMD.4
One Australian study found a significant connection between early Alzheimer’s disease and AMD. Researchers are not sure why the 2 conditions seem to be connected, but it does indicate that people with AD should be screened for AMD.4
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