Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a gradual, progressive, painless deterioration of the macula, the small area in the center of the retina. The retina is like the film in a camera; it lines the inside of our eyeball and records what we see. The retina is different from the film, however, in that it has only one area that sees details perfectly clearly; that is its center point, the macula. Damage to that area called the macula affects our detail vision and reduces the clarity of whatever we are looking directly at. This is the vision we use to read, drive, see the television, and do detailed work such as threading a needle, sewing, or crafts. It also reduces contrast sensitivity – our ability to see objects that are the same tone as their background – so identifying faces and seeing curbs and steps may be difficult. Our peripheral vision, the wide area that includes everything that we are not looking directly at, remains intact so individuals with age-related macular degeneration can see all around the room, for example.
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss for people aged 60 and older in the United States. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), 10-15 million individuals have age-related macular degeneration and about 0% of those affected have the "wet" type of age-related macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration is diagnosed as either dry (non-neovascular) or wet (neovascular). Neovascularization refers to growth of new blood vessels in an area, such as the macula, where they are not supposed to be. The dry form is more common than the wet form, with about 85 to 90 percent of AMD patients diagnosed with dry AMD. The wet form of the disease usually leads to more serious vision loss.
Currently, it appears the best way to protect your eyes from developing early (dry) macular degeneration is to eat a healthy diet, exercise and wear sunglasses that protect your eyes from the sun's harmful UV rays and high-energy visible (HEV) radiation.
To check for macular degeneration, Dr. Kostick will dilate (widen) your pupils using eyedrops and examine your eyes with an ophthalmoscope, a device that allows her to see the retina and other areas at the back of the eye. If macular degeneration is detected, Dr. Kostick may have you use an Amsler grid to check for macular degeneration symptoms such as wavy, blurry or dark areas in your vision and start you on a specific multivitamin to help slow down the progression of the disease. If Dr. Kostick suspects you may have the wet form of macular degeneration, she will do a special test of your eyes with an optical coherence tomography (OCT). OCT scanning is a sophisticated scanning laser that detects abnormal blood vessels by creating a special picture of your macula. Dr. Kostick will refer you to a retinal specialist is the wet disease is of concern.