Pennye Stammer Doud, O.D., is Director of Optometric Services at Annapolis Vision Center in Annapolis, Maryland. She has a passion for fitting children in contact lenses and also enjoys working with dry eye patients. Dr. Doud is an active member of the American Optometric Association, the Maryland Optometric Association, and serves as Vice President of the Anne Arundel Optometric Society.

Macular degeneration, often known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is a condition in which deposits and/or broken blood vessels damage the eye’s macula, resulting in central-vision loss. Most people don’t know they have AMD until damage has already occurred or until their VSP doctor detects it.

There are two kinds of AMD: dry and wet.

Dry AMD accounts for about 85% of cases and occurs when yellowish spots called drusen accumulate in or near the macula. These deposits often come from thinning of tissues in the eye, and they can sneak up on you gradually. Without action by an eye doctor, dry AMD can progress into wet AMD.

Wet AMD is far more severe than dry AMD because it involves the growth of abnormal blood vessels, which leak blood and fluid into the retina. The leakage itself causes damage, and so do the blood vessels that grow in place of the broken ones but that don’t grow exactly where they should.

The symptoms of AMD often progress slowly and painlessly. However, you might notice shadowy or fuzzy areas in your central vision, distortion of objects, diminished color perception, and trouble seeing straight lines. If you experience any of these things, contact your eye doctor as soon as possible to avoid any further damage.

While you might not be able to detect AMD until damage has already occurred, a VSP doctor can—during a comprehensive eye exam with dilation. The exam may include the following:

    • Looking at an Amsler grid – Changes in your central vision may cause the lines in the grid to distort.
    • Taking a visual acuity test – This measures how well you see at various distances.
    • Having your eyes dilated – Your optometrist has a better view of your retina and optic nerve to check for existing or potential damage.

Aging is the biggest culprit behind AMD. From your 60s to your 90s, the chances of AMD worsening and causing vision loss increase from 1% to 15%. One study found that smoking is also directly associated with about 25% of AMD cases. AMD has also been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, hereditary, and certain prescription drugs.

Unfortunately there is no cure for AMD, but treatments may prevent further vision loss and substantially slow the progression of the disease. Talk to your VSP doctor to find a solution that would be right for you. Some possible treatments include:

    • Anti-angiogenic drugs – These block the development of new blood vessels and slow leakage from damaged ones.
    • Laser therapy – Sometimes, this can be used to destroy actively-growing, abnormal blood vessels in the eye.
    • Low vision aids – Special lenses and electronic systems help patients maximize their remaining vision.

The best proactive way to protect your eyes from developing dry and wet AMD is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and wear sunglasses that protect your eyes from UV rays.

The content of this article is for general informational awareness purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult your eyecare doctor or physician for actual advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This article is the work of the attributed author and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of VSP. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.