What You Need to Know about Age-related Macular Degeneration
(ARA) - Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that blurs the sharp, central vision you need for "straight-ahead" activities such as reading, sewing, and driving. AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. AMD causes no pain.
In some cases, AMD advances so slowly that people notice little change in their vision. In others, the disease progresses faster and may lead to a loss of vision in both eyes. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years of age and older.
What is wet AMD?
Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the macula. These new blood vessels tend to be very fragile and often leak blood and fluid. The blood and fluid raise the macula from its normal place at the back of the eye. With wet AMD, loss of central vision can occur quickly. An early symptom of wet AMD is that straight lines appear wavy.
What is dry AMD?
Dry AMD occurs when the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down, gradually blurring central vision in the affected eye. As dry AMD gets worse, you may see a blurred spot in the center of your vision. Over time, as less of the macula functions, central vision in the affected eye can be lost gradually. The most common symptom of dry AMD is slightly blurred vision. You may have difficulty recognizing faces. You may need more light for reading and other tasks.
Which is more common -- the dry form or the wet form?
The dry form is much more common. More than 85 percent of all people with intermediate and advanced AMD combined have the dry form. How is dry AMD treated?
Once dry AMD reaches the advanced stage, no form of treatment can prevent vision loss. However, treatment can delay and possibly prevent intermediate AMD from progressing to the advanced stage, in which vision loss occurs. The National Eye Institute's Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that taking a specific high-dose formulation of antioxidants and zinc significantly reduces the risk of advanced AMD and its associated vision loss. Slowing AMD's progression from the intermediate stage to the advanced stage will save the vision.
How is wet AMD treated?
There are two treatments for wet AMD: laser surgery and photodynamic therapy. Neither treatment is a cure for wet AMD. Each treatment may slow the rate of vision decline or stop further vision loss. The disease and loss of vision may progress despite treatment.
What can I do if I already have lost some vision from AMD?
If you have lost some sight from AMD, ask your eye care professional about low vision services and devices that may help you make the most of your remaining vision. Ask for a referral to a specialist in low vision.
For more information, visit the NEI website at www.nei.nih.gov or write to AMD, 2020 Vision Place, Bethesda MD20892-2566. The National Eye Institute is part of the National Institutes of Health and is the Federal government's lead agency for vision research.