The number of people diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration has never been higher. Fortunately, the prognosis has never been better.
As its name implies, age-related macular degeneration, referred to as AMD, is a condition that typically strikes older adults. An estimated 11 million Americans have some form of AMD, and it remains the leading cause of blindness among people 65 and older. But while a diagnosis of the most serious form of AMD meant almost certain, profound vision loss less than a generation ago, the advances made in just the past decade have been startling
"Everyone has grandmothers, aunts and uncles and friends who lost vision from macular degeneration," says Dr. Rahul Khurana, a Northern California-based retina specialist and spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "Now with the treatments we have we cannot only stop vision loss but improve vision."
There are two forms of AMD. The dry form progresses slowly and is often, initially, symptomless. The wet form can quickly lead to severe vision loss if untreated. Because the dry form can progress to the wet form, patients diagnosed with dry AMD must continually monitor their eye health. About 90 percent of AMD-related blindness is caused by the wet form.
Using a simple tool known as the Amsler grid, you can check for warning signs of AMD at home. The grid looks like a piece of graph paper with lines and a black dot in the center. You use the grid by covering one eye while staring at the dot. If the lines appear wavy, blurred or distorted, you should make an appointment with an eye doctor for further tests. The Amsler grid is especially critical for anyone diagnosed with the dry form because it can indicate that the condition is progressing to the wet form. To download a printable Amsler grid, go to nwsdy.li/amslerprint. To order a free tool kit from the Discovery Eye Foundation that includes an Amsler grid, go to nwsdy.li/amdtoolkit.
While it might not be possible to restore vision loss, if the wet form is diagnosed early, patients can often lead normal lives. "They can read, they can drive, and do all the things they want to do in their golden years," Khurana says. And while advancements in treating AMD have already been dramatic, Khurana expects more options relatively soon. "There's a lot of exciting research being done," he says. "I look forward to the next breakthrough."
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends people ages 55 to 64 get a comprehensive eye exam every one to three years. For those 65 and older, the recommendation is every one to two years. For more information on AMD, go to nwsdy.li/eyesmart.