4 Frequently Asked Questions about Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Published 02/23/2023
by Heritage Vision Plans

February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Low Vision Awareness Month. Learn more about one of the most common causes of low vision.

Age-related macular degeneration is the single most common cause of vision loss in people age 50 and older. The prospect of vision loss may sound intimidating, and there’s no denying that low vision requires certain accommodations and lifestyle changes. But knowing what to expect and planning ahead can help you minimize your risk and maintain a high quality of life, whether you eventually grapple with AMD or not.

One of the most important factors in AMD outcomes is early detection. Taking advantage of your vision benefits, and getting the regular eye exams to which you’re entitled, ensures that you can stay on top of your risk for AMD. If you and your provider identify the early stages of the condition, there are steps you can take to protect your vision and slow the degenerative process. You and your provider can work together to determine what the right treatments and accommodations are for you.

Heritage is invested in promoting lifelong, quality eye care. Uncertainty can be frightening, but we want to provide you with the tools and information to care for your vision as you age. To that end, here are four important things to know about AMD.

1. How common is AMD?

Age-related macular degeneration is the single most common cause of vision loss in people 50 and older, affecting roughly 20 million Americans. The disease affects the macula, part of the retina which deals with sharp, straight-ahead vision. The result is blurriness or waviness in central vision, with the potential for central vision loss as the condition progresses.

2. What causes AMD? What are the risk factors?

There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry AMD is by far the more common, affecting roughly 80% of people with AMD, and involves a thinning of the retinal tissue in the area of the macula. Early and intermediate stages of dry AMD may show no symptoms, or only slight symptoms. The effects only become more obvious in the late stage of the condition, which is why it’s important to get regular eye exams to help identify the early signs.

Wet AMD, on the other hand, is so-called because it involves the blood vessels in the retina. These vessels grow abnormally and can leak fluid, creating a blind spot in the center of the visual field. Dry AMD can become wet AMD at any time, and wet AMD is always defined as late-stage. It can progress much more quickly than dry AMD.

The risk of developing AMD generally increases with age. It is also more common in women, caucasian people, people who smoke, and people with high blood pressure.

3. What happens once AMD is diagnosed?

Treatment approaches are different based on the type of AMD. Treatments in the form of injections and laser therapy are available for wet AMD, to reduce the disruptive effect of the abnormal blood vessels and potentially regain some vision. Dry AMD progresses more slowly, and with current available treatments, can’t be reversed—though treatments are improving all the time.

There are, however, steps you can take to protect the health of your eyes. While these steps can help preserve the remaining vision of people with AMD, you don’t need to wait until you experience AMD symptoms to take them. Caring for your overall health, keeping your blood pressure down, and eating an eye-healthy diet are all ways to reduce the potential impact of AMD.

If you are experiencing visual symptoms, there are low vision aids and vision rehabilitation programs that can help. Brighter lights, magnifying devices, and anti-glare sunglasses can all help you make the most of your current level of vision, and protect against future damage. Vision rehab programs can train you to use a variety of low-vision aids, and recommend accommodations, like setting up your home differently, that can improve your quality of life with low vision.

4. How do I recognize AMD?

AMD typically doesn’t show symptoms until it’s in its late stages, which is why it’s crucial to take advantage of your regular eye exams. If your provider identifies the early stages of AMD, you can establish preventative measures and begin preparing for any lifestyle changes that may be necessary.

If you begin to notice signs or symptoms of AMD, it’s important to check in with your provider right away. Early indicators of AMD are wavy or blurry areas in the center of your visual field. As the condition progresses, it may become harder to recognize faces, due to poor central vision, and you may see diminished colors or have trouble seeing in low light. Straight lines may begin to appear wavy, and in later stages, you may experience a blind spot or blank area in the center of your vision.

Symptoms of AMD may show up in intermediate stages, but become most noticeable in late stages. AMD usually affects only the central vision, and typically doesn’t cause full blindness. However, low vision can cause significant changes to your quality of life, particularly if you aren’t aware of available accommodations. That’s why it’s essential to partner with your care provider to detect signs of AMD and establish a treatment plan if needed.

Managing low vision is easier when you know what to expect.

Age-related macular degeneration is common, but treatments and accommodations for it and other low-vision conditions are improving every day. The best way to control your risk for AMD is to care for your whole body’s wellness, and to take full advantage of your Heritage vision benefits. With regular eye exams, you can feel confident that you have the information you need to make the right decisions for your vision health.