If you’ve been diagnosed with macular degeneration, it’s important to know how this sight-threatening eye disease progresses and what you can do to slow it down. Although there isn’t yet a cure, we at Eye & Ear of the Palm Beaches can prescribe specific formulations and provide treatments that could help you preserve your vision for years to come.
What Is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration, also called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness in people over 55. The disease involves a deterioration of the macula, the central part of the retina. Although the very early stages of AMD have no obvious symptoms, as the disease worsens the ability to drive, watch TV or look at photos of your family deteriorates.
There are two types of macular degeneration:
- Dry AMD – this more common form of AMD gradually is caused by the thinning of the macular tissue and the development of small deposits, called drusen, on the retina
- Wet AMD – this more serious but rarer form of AMD is caused by abnormal blood vessels growing underneath the retina that can bleed or leak fluid
An eye doctor diagnoses AMD with:
- A pupil dilation exam
- Digital Retinal Image or Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT)
- Amsler grid test
What Are the Phases of AMD Progression?
How fast your AMD will progress will depend on the type of macular degeneration you have, and how early it’s diagnosed and treated. The following are phases of AMD:
First Phase of Dry AMD
An eye doctor diagnoses dry AMD (the more common and less serious form of the disease) when they notice small deposits, called drusen on the retina during a comprehensive eye exam. This is usually the only indication of AMD, since the patient has no symptoms or vision loss at this stage.
Second Phase of Dry AMD
In the second phase of dry AMD, the drusen are larger and the eye doctor can see that the retina is starting to thin out and lose neural tissue. The retinal pigment epithelium layer (RPE) of the retina may be damaged. Since the RPE is responsible for transporting nutrients to the retina and absorbing light, damage to the RPE layer can significantly impact vision.
Third Phase of Dry AMD
Growth of drusen in dry AMD becomes more severe, and the RPE layer is extensively damaged. Vision declines, hindering the ability to perform your daily activities. AMD can even result in functional blindness. Due to vision loss, you may need to use low vision devices to help you see better throughout the day.
Because wet AMD is caused by the arrival of new and fragile blood vessels, phases of wet AMD progress more quickly and are more likely to cause blindness than dry AMD. The abnormal and thin blood vessels grow in the retina, and can easily leak fluid or blood, so vision can decline suddenly or within days.
How Fast Does Macular Degeneration Progress?
The general timeline for the progression of dry AMD from the initial diagnosis to significant vision loss is usually over several years, often within 10 years.
However, with the right treatment, many AMD patients can reduce the risk of significant vision loss and preserve their vision for many years. However, it can be difficult to predict what course the disease may take, so frequent eye exams are recommended.
Can Macular Degeneration Be Stopped?
Although no cure can completely stop macular degeneration in its tracks, early detection, treatment and lifestyle improvements can significantly increase your chances of preserving your vision for longer. The following can be helpful for preserving vision and slowing AMD progression
- Regular comprehensive eye exams
- Quitting smoking
- A diet rich in leafy greens, orange-colored vegetables and fruits
- Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish
- AREDS-2 vitamins designed to slow AMD progression
- Sunglasses that screen out 100% of UV rays
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Regular exercise
If you have been diagnosed with AMD, it’s important to act fast to preserve your vision. Prompt diagnosis and thorough treatment can help you see better for longer. The eye care staff and eye doctors at Eye & Ear of the Palm Beaches are dedicated to providing you with the right solutions and treatments to help preserve your vision with AMD.
Having a parent or sibling with AMD increases the risk that you will develop this eye disease. For this reason, it’s important to share your family’s health history with your eye doctor and to schedule regular comprehensive eye exams.
A: Does dry macular degeneration progress to wet AMD?
About 10% of people with dry AMD eventually develop wet AMD. This is yet another reason to have routine eye exams if you have dry AMD.