Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease associated with aging that gradually destroys sharp, central vision. Central vision is needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading and driving.
AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. AMD causes no pain.
In some cases, AMD advances so slowly that people notice little change in their vision. In others, the disease progresses faster and may lead to a loss of vision in both eyes. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years of age and older. AMD occurs in two forms: wet and dry.
Where is the macula?
The macula is located in the center of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The retina instantly converts light, or an image, into electrical impulses. The retina then sends these impulses, or nerve signals, to the brain.
What is wet AMD?
Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the macula. These new blood vessels tend to be very fragile and often leak blood and fluid. The blood and fluid raise the macula from its normal place at the back of the eye. Damage to the macula occurs rapidly.
With wet AMD, loss of central vision can occur quickly. Wet AMD is also known as advanced AMD. It does not have stages like dry AMD.
An early symptom of wet AMD is that straight lines appear wavy. If you notice this condition or other changes to your vision, contact your eye care professional at once. You need a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
What is dry AMD?
Dry AMD occurs when the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down, gradually blurring central vision in the affected eye. As dry AMD gets worse, you may see a blurred spot in the center of your vision. Over time, as less of the macula functions, central vision is gradually lost in the affected eye.
The most common symptom of dry AMD is slightly blurred vision. You may have difficulty recognizing faces. You may need more light for reading and other tasks. Dry AMD generally affects both eyes, but vision can be lost in one eye while the other eye seems unaffected.
One of the most common early signs of dry AMD is drusen.
Early detection. Early detection. Early detection.
We can’t say it often enough—early detection is your best defense against vision loss caused by macular degeneration. It takes only two minutes a day to test your eyes for vision changes that may be caused by macular degeneration!
Step 1 - Click the PDF link, print it and tape it up in a well-lit area at eye level. Some people find it most convenient to tape it to a bathroom mirror or position it on the refrigerator door.
Step 2 - Stand approximately 24 inches away from the grid.
Step 3 - If you use reading glasses, put them on.
Step 4 - Cover one eye with your hand.
Step 5 - Focus on the dot at the center of the grid for one full minute.
Step 6 - Repeat the process for the other eye.
If any of the lines on the grid are blurred, wavy, or even missing, call (605) 336-6294 to schedule a “dilated” eye exam.
Working with your doctor
Even if you have macular degeneration, the good news is that this disease doesn’t cause total blindness. To make the most of your vision, get regular eye exams and monitor your vision.
During your eye exams, your doctor may:
- Check your vision
- Use special instruments to view the inside of your eyes
- Use a special dye to create pictures (angiograms) of the inside of your eyes
- Show you how to watch for vision changes using an Amsler grid
- Ask your doctor about new treatments. Taking vitamins, quitting smoking, and avoiding ultraviolet light, especially sunlight, may also help keep this disease from getting worse.
- Monitor Vision Loss
Sudden vision changes may be a sign of wet macular degeneration. That’s why you need to monitor your vision with an Amsler grid. Follow these steps as often as suggested by your doctor:
- Keep the grid at eye level and stand 14 inches away.
- If you wear glasses for reading, put them on. Cover or close one eye. Focus on the black dot in the center of the grid.
- On the grid, mark any vision changes from the day before. This may include black spots or wavy lines that weren’t there before.
- Repeat these steps with the other eye.
Call your doctor right away if you notice any changes.
Dealing with vision loss
- Magnifiers and closed-circuit television devices
- Check-writing guides and large-print checks
- Large-faced watches and phones
- Books with large type and books on tape
- Talking clocks and other talking devices
It’s up to you!
If you have macular degeneration, use an Amsler grid to check your vision. If your vision changes suddenly, see your eye doctor right away.
Finding vision aids
Ask your doctor about low-vision resources. The groups below can also provide information about vision aids:
National Federation of the Blind
National Association for the Visually Handicapped