Age Related Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration, also known as ARMD (age related macular degeneration), is a disease most often associated with aging and thinning of the central portion of the eye’s retina. It is not a part of the normal aging process; however, age is the biggest risk factor.
In fact, ARMD is the most common cause of decreased vision in the United States in people older than sixty and affects 11 percent of the population 65 and older. As the baby boomers continue to age, the number of people with ARMD will dramatically increase. By 2030, it is estimated that the number of people with ARMD will increase from 1,700,000 to 6,300,000.
What is ARMD?
If you think of your eye as a camera, the retina would be considered the film. In the center of the retina is the macula. In ARMD, slow degeneration can cause a gradual decrease in sharp central vision which is needed for reading and driving.
There are two types of ARMD. The dry type accounts for about 90 percent of cases, and the wet form accounts for about 10 percent. Dry ARMD is caused by the light sensitive cells in the macula slowly deteriorating and thinning. Vision loss is usually gradual. In fact, people may not even know they have dry ARMD in its early stages because the visual changes are only mild. The most common symptom is blurred vision.
Wet ARMD is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels beneath the macula. These new vessels break, bleed and leak fluid which destroys the overlying retina. Vision loss may be sudden and severe. The most common symptom is when straight lines appear distorted and wavy. In addition, a blind spot appearing in the center of your vision is also a very common complaint. In both dry and wet ARMD, vision loss is painless.
To date, there is no cure for ARMD. However, some treatments have been shown to slow the progression of dry ARMD and stop new blood vessel growth in wet ARMD.
In 2001, the Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that taking high levels of antioxidants and zinc can reduce the risk of developing advanced ARMD by about 25 percent. People who are at risk for developing advanced ARMD should consider taking a combination of these vitamins. You can find them in your local drug store.
In addition, the growth of new blood vessels (neovascularization) in wet ARMD can now be treated with medications aimed at stopping abnormal blood vessel growth. Some of these treatments have even been shown to improve vision. Unfortunately, the treatments do not cure the disease, and without continued application, ARMD can continue to progress.
Are You at Risk?
Risk factors for developing ARMD include:
- increased age
- Caucasian race
- family history
- being female
During a complete dilated eye exam, your Eye Physicians of Central Florida doctor can diagnose ARMD in its early stages. This is important because if you have dry ARMD you can start taking the vitamins, and if you have wet ARMD, you will know to seek eye care immediately if you experience any distortion in your vision.