Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is changes that occur in the central area of the retina (macula), due to the aging process.
AMD often leads to the long-term deterioration of vision, and in some cases a rapid loss of sight. If you are over 50 and have problems identifying faces or reading, it is possible that you could be suffering from AMD.
AMD is the most common cause of visual loss in the western world. The severity of the disease can vary from person to person – vision loss may stabilise in some people, improve in others, or continually decline.
In the UK, the incidence of late-stage AMD is estimated to be:
- 4% in people aged over 50 years old
- 8% in those over 65
- 2% in those people aged over 80 years old
There are two types of AMD – wet and dry, with wet being by far the most common form.
This type of AMD occurs with the formation of new blood vessels. These abnormal vessels grow into the macula and leak blood which causes scarring of the macula and the subsequent loss of central vision.
Initial symptoms include:
- Glare around bright lights
- Dark spots in your field of vision
- Gaps in written sentences when you are reading
- Images appearing distorted
- Fading colours
Wet AMD may develop rapidly but can be treated effectively if diagnosed. Having regular eye tests should pick up on these symptoms, and the optician would then refer you to a retinal specialist.
Dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is due to retinal cells dying and not being replaced.
This occurs over many years, so the decline is a very gradual process.
Symptoms are similar to wet AMD:
- Gaps or dark spots may appear in your vision
- Colours that fade
- Looking at bright lights becomes uncomfortable
- Disappearing words when reading
- Distorted images
Again, yearly eye checks will most likely reveal the symptoms of dry AMD, so it is important to keep these appointments, especially as up to 15% of people with dry AMD go on to develop wet AMD.
Wet AMD can be treated effectively if diagnosed at an early stage. The abnormal growth of blood vessels is halted by injecting drugs (aflibercept and ranibizumab) into the eyes. This usually happens once a month for 3 months, but occasionally more injections will be needed.
If a patient does not respond to the injections, laser treatment may be used instead.
There is currently no effective treatment for dry AMD but researchers and organisations are actively trying to find a way to treat the condition. The Macular Society has details of the latest research on their website.