Ask most people what eye disease is responsible for the greatest incidence of vision loss in the over-65 population and they would probably answer glaucoma.
They’d be wrong.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in people over age 65, yet this condition often gets overlooked. Read on to learn more about AMD and what can be done to prevent or treat it.
What is AMD?
AMD causes damage to the macula, the small spot on the retina that allows people to see clearly and to see things straight ahead of them. The macula is comprised of millions of light-sensing cells, and when these cells are damaged by AMD, the center of the vision field becomes darker, blurry and distorted.
There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry AMD is characterized by the thinning and aging of the macular tissue. About 10 to 20 percent of cases progress within five years to wet AMD, the more serious form of the condition, which occurs when blood vessels grow behind the macula and leak fluid into it, causing blind spots.
The National Eye Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, announced Feb. 23 that it will conduct a five-year study on the progression of AMD. Researchers will study 500 people, hoping to identify markers of the condition and better understand its progression and what steps can be taken to slow or prevent that progression.
Can AMD be prevented?
While AMD cannot be prevented, you can take steps that may slow the progression of the condition, says Dr. Efrem Castillo, UnitedHealthcare chief medical officer. He notes that incorporating healthy lifestyle choices like quitting smoking, eating leafy, green vegetables and maintaining a good blood pressure and cholesterol level can help.
Another important step is to get dilated eye exams and vision tests from your eye health professional to diagnose the condition and track any progression. Tell your eye doctor if others in your family have been diagnosed with AMD because it is a hereditary condition.
How is AMD treated?
Several prescription medications covered under Medicare Part B can be used to treat AMD. People must meet the requirements established by Medicare to have the prescription medication covered by their insurance plan.
The use of over-the-counter medications for AMD is based on findings from two Age-Related Eye Disease Studies by the National Eye Institute. Study results showed that AMD progression could be slowed when people took high doses of a specific set of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and E, copper, omega-3 fatty acids and zinc. Remember to check with your doctor, eye professional and pharmacist to see if these non-prescription medications might be good for you.
While vision changes can be a normal part of aging, make note of any changes you experience and talk with your doctor to keep focused on your eye health.