Age Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD) is the most common cause of legal blindness in older Americans. It is estimated that one third of all seniors aged 75 years or older have some form of this disease. The cause of this disease has been linked to both hereditary and environmental factors. Smoking is a well-known risk factor for the development of macular degeneration.
ARMD affects the center part of the retina, which is the macula (Figure 1). The macula is responsible for our central vision. Therefore, people with this disease may lose some or all of the central vision. ARMD exists in two basic forms: “dry” and “wet”. Most people who develop ARMD have the dry form of the disease in both eyes. Dry ARMD occurs when the vision cells of the macula “wear out” (Figure 2).
Wet ARMD occurs when the growth of abnormal blood vessels leak and bleed into the macula (Figure 3). This can cause sudden vision loss unlike the usual slow and progressive vision loss associated with the dry form. Of those patients with dry ARMD, approximately 10-15% will develop the “wet” form of the disease. It is important to notify your doctor immediately if you notice a sudden blurring or distortion of vision in one eye. This may be a sign that bleeding or leaking has occurred. There are medicines that are commonly injected into the eye that may partially restore or stabilize the vision if the process is discovered before scarring causes permanent damage. However, even with these injections, further vision loss may occur.
There are several steps to take to ensure keeping your best vision. First, you need to be examined by your local eye doctor to see if you have the disease. If you do, discuss with your doctor whether you should take vitamin supplements specifically targeted to slow down the progression of vision loss. The national standard of care for these vitamins is referred to as AREDS2 (Age Related Eye Disease Study). Second, eat fish and green vegetables at least twice a week along with a daily fish oil supplement. Third, maintain good health through exercise and keep your cholesterol levels controlled. Finally, and most importantly, STOP SMOKING. It has been estimated that active smoking can increase the rate of vision loss by 300% – 500% with this disease.
There are currently many modes of treatment being studied in clinical trials. Please refer to the Resources page for links to more information regarding ARMD.