How To Detect and Monitor Age-Related Macular Degeneration
There’s no escaping the fact that the number of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) cases is increasing. Among American men and women over 50, it’s the primary cause of irreversible vision impairment. Faced with the threat of central vision loss, seniors must have regular ophthalmological exams so that AMD can be diagnosed earlier, before it can progress into its more serious stage. Doctors also gain the opportunity to quickly start treatment. With an AMD diagnosis, you can expect regular monitoring, as this boosts the likelihood of preserving your vision.
A Brief Overview of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
AMD is a degenerative condition affecting the retina, a thin, light-sensitive tissue layer. The retina transforms light signals into electrical signals, which are turned into viewable images in the brain. Over time, AMD weakens the tissue of the retina’s center, the macula. Responsible for straight-ahead, fine vision, and specific visual aspects, like details or color, the macula enables close-up activities. It also permits visual acuity, the ability to distinguish objects at a given distance.
The earlier, more common form, dry (or atrophic) AMD, may have no symptoms, and vision loss is slow and gradual. You should have your vision checked regularly and tell your ophthalmologist about any changes. If untreated, it can progress into the rarer, more advanced wet (exudative) form, with quicker, more noticeable vision loss. You may be at risk for choroidal neovascularization (CNV), abnormal, weed-like blood vessel growth under the retina. When those vessels break, blood and other fluids can leak into the macular area, causing swelling, bleeding, central vision issues, and vision loss. AMD rarely leads to complete vision loss, as the peripheral (side) vision is almost always left intact.
Explaining the Importance of Regular AMD Exams
Through the combination of early detection and regular monitoring, AMD patients have a better likelihood of preserving vision. Often, dry AMD will only be diagnosed during an annual comprehensive eye exam, when your ophthalmologist thoroughly inspects the retina. You can expect to be dilated, as special eye drops are applied to widen and open the pupils, providing an unobstructed retinal view. This exam will detect any changes to the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), which ensures the retina’s nourishment and metabolic processes.
For dry AMD, this exam identifies the development of drusen, small yellow deposits under the retina, which, in excess amounts, may harm the RPE. This exam also helps doctors detect new blood vessel growth related to wet AMD. Regardless of AMD status, those between 40 and 54 should schedule regular dilated eye exams at least every 2-4 years. Those over 55 require an eye exam every 1-2 years.
How Age-Related Macular Degeneration Is Detected
If you are diagnosed with AMD, additional testing may be conducted to further evaluate your condition. Should wet AMD be suspected, you can expect to undergo testing to identify the presence of any blood vessel growth, allowing treatment to be initiated. Fluorescein angiography, a diagnostic technique, may be used; this involves a yellow dye being injected into an arm vein. It travels through the circulatory system to the eyes, where it’s photographed, allowing areas with leakage to be identified.
Optical coherence tomography (OCT), another diagnostic technique, may be utilized for dry AMD to identify regions containing drusen and RPE atrophy. OCT may also be employed for wet AMD to locate blood vessels and detect any thickening related to fluid leakage.
Consistent Ophthalmologic Exams Essential to AMD Care
Age-related macular degeneration is incurable and capable of taking away central vision, so regular detection and monitoring are crucial. Should you suspect AMD, we invite you to schedule a consultation with our retina specialists.