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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of sight loss for those over 50 in the developed world with an estimated 600,000 people already effected by AMD in the UK alone (source).
Sadly, the older we get the more likely we are to suffer from AMD so our team at A Servant’s Heart In-Home Care have collaborated with Simon Donne, an optician in Bedford in the UK, to find out more about the disease and what can be done to prevent it.
What is Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)?
The macula is a small but crucial part of your retina that is responsible for your central vision – which is what you see when you focus straight ahead. Age-related macular degeneration occurs when the cells of the macula are damaged or deteriorate, causing central vision sight loss.
AMD rarely causes complete sight loss – there is nearly always some peripheral vision remaining. So a person suffering from AMD will be able to see the outline of a television, but not the picture on the screen. This is why people with AMD struggle to recognise faces.
There are two main types of AMD: ‘early’ sometimes called ‘dry’ AMD or ‘exudative’ often called ‘wet’ AMD.
Most sufferers (around 75%) of AMD have ‘dry’ AMD which is the slow deterioration of macula cells over a period of several months or even years, exacerbated by the build-up of waste material and debris under the macula.
Some sufferers of dry AMD go on to develop what is known as ‘wet’ AMD which occurs when abnormal blood vessels develop underneath the retina, leaking blood and fluid and prevent the retina from working properly. Unlike dry AMD, wet AMD can develop very suddenly and cause severe sight impairment.
AMD affects people in different ways, with symptoms of dry AMD developing slowly and often going unnoticed for some time. There is very rarely any pain related to AMD.
The main symptoms include:
- Fuzzy or shadowed vision which increases over time
- Gaps or dark spots appearing in vision
- Bright light can be glaring and uncomfortable
- Difficulty seeing colour and fine detail
- Words may disappear when you’re reading
In addition to these symptoms, with wet AMD, straight lines can appear wavy and vision loss occurs much more rapidly – sometimes within days or weeks.
If your optician suspects or diagnoses dry AMD, there is unfortunately no treatment however most people find that they can carry on as normal for quite some time, with the progression of the disease being slow over many months or years.
There are ways to minimise the affect dry AMD has on your life however, such as the use of magnifying lenses, large print books, bright reading lights and special computer software that will read your emails and documents to you.
Suspected or diagnosed wet AMD sufferers will be quickly referred to a retinal specialist at a hospital. Treatment often involves one of two main options:
- Anti-VEGF medication – prevents the growth of new abnormal blood vessels in the eye and administration often takes the form of regular intravitreal injections (injections into the eye)
- Laser eye surgery – destroys the abnormal blood vessels to stop them leaking blood or fluid, and prevent them damaging your eyesight further.
The treatment you receive will very much depend on the severity and location of the disease, and will be advised by your specialist.
Whilst there is no treatment for dry AMD, steps can be taken to prevent both dry and wet AMD from developing, or at least stifle development.
There is some evidence to show that a diet high in vitamins A, C and E may slow the progression of dry AMD, and possibly even reduce the chances of wet AMD occurring. Taking supplements is a good way to introduce extra vitamins into your diet, or you can try to eat more leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and collard greens. Carrots, tomatoes and oranges are also rich in vitamins A, C and E.
Substances called lutein, also found in leafy green vegetables, and zeaxanthin may also slow the progression of AMD. Whilst definitive scientific evidence has found no definitive conclusion regarding these two vitamins to combat AMD, they certainly help keep your eyes healthy. In addition, a healthy balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals have a plethora of other health benefits beyond good eye sight – so it’s worth eating your greens!
If you’re concerned that you, or someone you know, is developing AMD you can visit the Macular Society website, which has plenty of useful information on both dry and wet AMD.
If you’d like to know how A Servant’s Heart In-Home Care can help sufferers of AMD – use our contact page to find out more.