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Macular Degeneration

WHAT IS MACULAR DEGENERATION?

Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is a deterioration that occurs in the part of the retina responsible for central vision, the macula. AMD is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in the elderly. About 1.2 million people in the United States have advanced AMD, and it is expected that by 2020 approximately 3 million people may be diagnosed with advanced AMD. Vision loss typically affects both eyes at different rates. Because macular degeneration affects central vision, symptoms include difficulty reading, recognizing familiar faces, and seeing fine details. There are two forms of AMD, dry and wet. The dry form is more common, and vision changes are typically more insidious and less severe. The wet form occurs less frequently, but can have a more sudden onset and more severe vision loss. 

WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR AMD?

While we don’t know exactly what causes macular degeneration, we know of several risk factors that contribute to this disease such as advanced age, genetics, smoking, and high blood pressure. While some of these are not within our control, it has been found that nutrition plays an important role in AMD.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE MACULAR DEGENERATION?

Some people are diagnosed with AMD after seeing their ophthalmologist because of difficulty with vision. Others are diagnosed with early signs of macular degeneration during a routine eye exam. Only a comprehensive eye exam with Dr. Cunningham with special attention to the macula can detect the signs of AMD.

CAN VITAMINS HELP PREVENT AMD?

In a landmark study supported by the National Institutes of Health/National Eye Institute called the Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), high levels of antioxidant vitamins and zinc significantly reduced the risk of AMD and vision loss from AMD. The study showed that high risk patients with intermediate or advanced AMD lowered their risk of progression of vision loss by about 25% when treated with specific high-dose combinations of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and zinc. Patients without macular degeneration or with mild AMD did not benefit from the regimen. It must be understood that vitamins and proper nutrition will not restore vision that has already been lost, but researchers are finding more links between nutrients and AMD. There are several commercial brands of vitamins available including Ocuvite ® PreserVision ® and ICaps ®. A detailed discussion with Dr. Cunningham will help you decide whether you should be taking these vitamins. 

IS THERE A CURE FOR AMD?

While there is no cure for the vision loss associated with AMD, there are several new and exciting treatments available to help decrease vision loss in selected patients. It is important to see your ophthalmologist to determine if you may be at risk for AMD, and to educate yourself on how you can pick up any signs of progression so that treatment can be initiated early on if needed.

WHAT CAN I DO TO STOP VISION LOSS FROM MY AMD?

Regular eye exams can help detect any change that may warrant treatment. Home monitoring with an Amsler grid, taught by Dr. Cunningham can also detect changes in your macular degeneration. Early detection of these changes allows for initiation of treatment in a timely manner, and this is important in preserving vision. The stage of your AMD will determine whether or not you may benefit from specific antioxidants and minerals. Although macular degeneration is not entirely preventable, you can minimize your risk by not smoking, keeping your blood pressure under control, eating plenty of dark leafy green vegetables, and starting specific high-dose vitamins and minerals if warranted.