A clear vision of age-related macular degeneration

Blurry vision and blind spots may be more than just signs of aging-they can be indicators of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This complex disease affects more than 10 million Americans and is the leading cause of blindness for people over 50. Promising research is advancing new treatments and teaching us more about the disease, but people must take preventive measures and understand the importance of early diagnosis to protect their sight, especially as aging Baby Boomers are becoming more at risk.

Early diagnosis depends on detecting warning signs and regular visits to an ophthalmologist. A person suffering from the early stages of AMD may not notice changes in their vision. But as the disease advances, they may experience blurring in their central vision, especially during detail-oriented tasks like reading.

Doctors diagnose AMD by identifying yellow deposits called drusen that collect underneath the retina. Most people initially suffer from dry AMD, which occurs when the cells in the eye’s macula slowly break down to gradually blur central vision. Some cases of dry AMD progress to the wet form, which causes rapid, advanced vision loss because abnormal blood vessels grow under the macula and leak blood and fluid. A person seeing straight lines as wavy is a classic symptom of wet AMD.

Genetics often play a role in AMD, but the heredity link is complicated as many people develop the condition without family history of it, while those with affected parents may never suffer vision loss. A number of additional factors are associated with AMD, including cigarette smoking, bright sunlight, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diet.

The National Eye Institute conducted the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), which found that a dietary supplement containing a combination of vitamins and minerals reduced people’s risk of developing advanced AMD. The supplement is available over the counter, but should only be taken after consulting a doctor.

Studies have also linked consuming lower amounts of dietary fat to decreased chances of developing advanced AMD. Foods high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish and nuts, as well as colorful vegetables rich in carotenoids may also help prevent AMD.

Current research holds promise for new AMD treatments. A biopharmaceutical company recently launched a clinical trial of a cellular therapy derived from stem cells that could preserve and restore vision of AMD patients. Another company is conducting a gene therapy human study that could be a long-lasting approach to halting vision loss from AMD, with only a single treatment. And, one company is seeking FDA approval of a therapy for wet AMD that requires less frequent treatment injections than existing treatments.

Dr. Stephen Rose is the Chief Research Officer for the Foundation Fighting Blindness, a national nonprofit dedicated to advancing research for AMD treatments and the entire spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases.

Additional AMD information is available at www.FightBlindness.org or by calling 800-683-5555.