Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD or AMD) is a common eye condition resulting from deterioration of the macula, part of the retina. According to the National Eye Institute, macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among people age 50 and older. There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. About ten percent of dry macular degeneration cases advance to wet, after which symptoms tend to progress quickly.
Depending on various factors, macular degeneration can progress slowly or quickly. One of the first signs is blurriness, usually near the center of vision. The blurred area may start out very small and grow larger over time, with blank spots developing in the central visual field.
Macular degeneration can cause shapes that are not really there. For example, straight lines can appear wavy or bent. This is one of the first signs of wet macular degeneration. At the onset of this symptom, there is a short window of time in which the damage can be stopped to prevent total vision loss, so it is essential to seek medical attention immediately.
A person with AMD may lose his or her ability to detect subtle differences in texture, light, shadows, and other aspects of the visual environment. These limitations can lead to injuries because slight inclines, small steps, and other inconsistencies on an individual's path may be overlooked, leading to trips or falls. Older people are especially at risk because their bones are more fragile, and breaks are more likely.
People with AMD may notice they are slow to adapt when moving from well-lit areas to darker locations and vice versa. This may pose problems when driving through tunnels and during mid-light hours such as sunrise and sunset. Glares off wet roads or glass can make it especially difficult to see.
Tasks like reading or eating may become difficult in dimly lit areas as macular degeneration continues to affect eyesight. Individuals with the condition must learn to adapt their environments with overhead lamps or reading lights. Replacing lighting throughout the home with brighter bulbs can also help with this symptom.
AMD may cause colors to appear less saturated, with previously bright shades appearing dull. Similar colors may begin to look the same, making it more difficult to differentiate between some objects. People with macular degeneration may want to begin arranging items in their home-based on contrast to make general functioning easier.
Over time, the effects of macular degeneration on central vision can make recognizing people and distinguishing faces increasingly difficult. When this symptom develops, it is best to let friends and family know they should identify themselves when saying hello.
Macular degeneration causes difficulty reading, especially small text. People with the condition can carry a magnifying glass to make it easier to read documents or signage. Buying large-print books or using an e-reader that can magnify text or translate as audio can also help ease this transition.
According to the Mayo Clinic, macular degeneration usually affects both eyes, although the eyes may progress at different rates. When symptoms worsen in one eye, the other eye may initially compensate enough that the individual does not notice the problem. This can cause headaches, however. Any issues with eyesight, especially in individuals over 50, should be reported to an eye doctor.
Sudden and rapid declines in vision likely indicate wet macular degeneration. A doctor may prescribe anti-angiogenic drugs to stop the growth of the excessive blood vessels that damage the macula. There is currently no cure for macular degeneration, though some prescriptions and supplements can slow the progression. Vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and copper may help, but should always be approved by a doctor before use.
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