February is ARMD (aka: AMD) awareness month, so it’s a great time to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of this degenerative eye disease. ARMD affects more than 10 million Americans and is the leading cause of central vision loss for those aged 55 and older in the United States.
What is ARMD?
ARMD is a painless eye disease which is marked by degeneration of the macula. The macula of the eye is the part of the retina responsible for both central vision and for distinguishing fine detail. There are 2 types of ARMD: the dry form and the wet form. Only an ophthalmologist can tell you which type of ARMD you may have. The dry form is thought to be caused by either thinning of the macula or pigment deposit accumulation (drusen) on the macula. The wet form is marked by leaking blood vessels which are created by the body to bring nutrients to the troubled retina, but instead cause scarring and leakage.
What are the symptoms of ARMD?
Both the dry and wet forms of ARMD can cause some or all of the following symptoms:
- Blurry central vision
- Difficulty reading
- Blank or missing spots in central vision
- Waving or distortion of straight lines or edges
Is there a cure for ARMD?
ARMD is technically an incurable disease. However, there are treatments available for the wet form of ARMD.
Are there any treatments available for ARMD?
There are several treatments available for the wet form of this disease. The leaking of the blood vessels can be treated with a photocoagulating laser. There are also medications aimed at inhibiting the endothelial growth factor (VEGF) which is responsible for the production of new blood vessels, such as Lucentis, Macugen and Eyelea. These treatments should be recommended and performed by a retinal specialist, which is an Ophthalmologist who specifically specializes in the retina of the eye. Unfortunately, there are currently no treatments for the dry form of this disease. However, for both forms of the disease, a consultation with a low vision specialist is typically recommended as specialty magnifying lenses for reading can be helpful for some patients.
Is there anything I can do to prevent ARMD?
Although there’s nothing definitive that prevents ARMD, there are some things that studies have shown effective in slowing the progression of this disease. Taking supplements high in zinc, wearing sunglasses with UV 400 protection, eating a healthy diet rich in green vegetables, avoiding smoking and exercising regularly are recommended preventive habits.
ARMD is a hereditary disease, so knowing your family history can be helpful. If you know you have ARMD in your family, checking an Amsler Grid (pictured below) daily is recommended.
Annual, dilated eye exams with an ophthalmologist are also recommended since early intervention with the wet form of ARMD can prevent further vision loss.
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