Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD or just AMD) is an eye disease and leading cause of vision loss among people 60 and over in developed countries. It occurs with the degeneration of the retinal pigment epithelium and ultimately photoreceptors of the macula, which is the small, central area of the retina responsible for central vision. It is estimated that 8% of people around the world exhibit signs of ARMD (https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/age-related-macular-degeneration#statistics). The condition can be highly disruptive to one’s quality of life, as central vision is critical for detailed tasks such as reading, driving, and recognizing faces.
Being one of the most prevalent conditions that affect people’s vision, we regularly dedicate the month of February to bring awareness to ARMD. In this post, we discuss the signs & symptoms of ARMD, as well as tips on receiving diagnosis and treatment.
Signs and Symptoms of ARMD
Typically, ARMD progresses slowly and causes a slow, painless loss of vision. However, there are about 10% of cases where vision loss occurs suddenly and often drastically.
The most common symptoms of ARMD include:
- Vision feels less clear and blurry
- Difficulty reading fine print or driving
- Dark, blurry areas in the center of your vision
If you’re exhibiting any of the symptoms mentioned above, it’s advised to seek an optometrist and get a thorough eye exam done. In order to screen for ARMD, the optometrist will look for tiny yellow deposits (called ‘drusen’) under the retina, which is a common early sign of the condition.
If there is reason to believe that you may be affected by ARMD, your optometrist may conduct a brief test using an Amsler grid or may even recommend to undergo more advanced exams such as an Optical coherence tomography (OCT) or Fluorescein angiography.
Causes and Risk Factors
As the name suggests, ARMD occurs primarily with age and typically affects patients over the age of 50. There is also a strong genetic component, where patients with changes in certain genes (such as the ARMS2 or HTRA1 genes) are at a greater risk of experiencing ARMD.
Beyond age and genetic influences, there are also many environmental factors associated with an increased risk of ARMD. Some of these factors include:
- High Blood Pressure
On the right is an example of an Amsler Grid, it should be viewed monocularly at a distance of about 30cm, wearing your corrective reading eyewear if needed. You should do this regularly and if the appearance of wavy lines or blacked out areas appear on the grid, please notify your eye care professional promptly.
Treatment & Visual Compensation
There are several options and aides to help with treating and adapting to ARMD. Typically, your optometrist will recommend and provide various low-vision aids to help with seeing nearby objects. This can have a significant positive impact on people’s ability to maintain their independence or perform essential daily living tasks.
Depending on your specific condition, your optometrist may also explore other options to treat or contain the progression of the condition. These options can include recommending a specific nutritional regiment, laser therapy, or use of anti-angiogenic (blood vessel anti-growth) drugs.
ARMD is a significant condition that widely affects individuals across the developed world. It’s important to maintain awareness of the condition and for individuals to seek out routine screening and early diagnosis. During ARMD awareness month, we remind everyone of the importance of regular and routine eye examinations with an eye care professional, eat lots of dark, green leafy vegetable and wear sunglasses while outdoors throughout the year. If you have been diagnosed with this condition, please visit this site for more information and support.