Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 50 in the United States. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), AMD affects up to 15 million people in North America.
AMD occurs when the central portion of the retina, known as the macula, deteriorates. The retina acts sort of like a video camera with email capabilities – it records the images we see and then sends them to the brain using the optic nerve.
The macula’s function is to focus the eye’s central vision, and it is the primary mechanism behind our ability to recognize faces, read, see color, and see objects in fine detail. When it deteriorates, the macula is unable to receive images correctly and thus cannot send the images to the brain.
Common Risk Factors
When it comes to the cause of AMD, there are a number of biological, medical, and lifestyle risk factors at play. You are more likely to be diagnosed with AMD if you:
- Are over the age of 55
- Have a family history of AMD
- Are a smoker
- Are obese
- Have high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease
- Frequently expose your eyes to UV rays without protection
In the early stages of AMD, you may not experience any noticeable symptoms. As the condition progresses, it can cause blurred vision and, eventually, the total loss of the eye’s central vision. However, people with AMD may still retain their peripheral vision. At its most extreme, vision with AMD is like looking at a photograph that has been eclipsed by a black hole in the center.
Because it can be easy to miss in the early stages, it’s important to make an appointment with a retina specialist if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Worsening vision, especially if a quick onset or one eye worse than the other
- Distortion — straight lines starting to appear curved
- Darkened areas in the center of your vision
- Changing perceptions of color
Because there is no known cure, your best defense against developing AMD is to focus on prevention. While certain risk factors, such as genetics and age, are out of your control, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make that will help slow down the condition’s development. These lifestyle changes include:
- Not smoking
- Having regular eye exams
- Always wearing sunglasses that block 100% of UVA and UVB light
- Keeping blood pressure and cholesterol under control
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Maintaining a moderately active lifestyle
- Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
If you’re concerned about your risk of developing AMD or are in need of treatment in Austin, contact the expert ophthalmologists and eye surgeons at Austin Retina Associates at 800‑252‑8259 or complete an online form.