Getting older means going through various changes. Some of these changes affect your vision.

Older adults are at risk for several eye diseases, but some are at higher risk than others. One relatively common age-related eye condition is age-related macular degeneration or AMD. Age-related macular degeneration can be a serious eye condition, so it’s essential to know your risk for it and monitor the health of your eyes accordingly.

Keep reading to understand your risk for age-related macular degeneration better, what it is, and how it can affect your vision.

What is Macular Degeneration?

The macula is at the center of the retina. The retina is the thin membrane that lines the back of the eye and includes photoreceptor cells that receive the light that passes through your eye and translates it into impulses sent to your brain.

Macular degeneration occurs when the photoreceptor cells that make up the macula become damaged and die. If these cells die, it affects your central vision as that part of the retina can’t send signals to your brain.

Macular degeneration is usually caused by aging, which is called age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Age-related macular degeneration occurs when the arteries that provide blood and oxygen to the macula harden.

Without enough oxygen, the tissue degenerates, thinning out. Some people with age-related macular degeneration can lose their central vision entirely, rendering them blind.

There are two kinds of age-related macular degeneration: dry and wet.

Dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Dry AMD is much more common among the two kinds of macular degeneration. Dry age-related macular degeneration occurs when drusen, which are yellowish deposits created from hardening arteries, build up under the macula.

When drusen build up under the macula, it thins it out and causes it to become weaker. Dry age-related macular degeneration usually develops very slowly over time. Patients with dry AMD may show little or no symptoms in the early stages.

Wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Wet age-related macular degeneration is the second kind of macular degeneration patients can be diagnosed with. Only 10% of cases are wet age-related macular degeneration.

Wet age-related macular degeneration occurs when blood vessels under the macula grow abnormally, swell, and leak. As the blood vessels in the macular swell and leak, this leads to scarring, which kills photoreceptor cells. Wet age-related macular degeneration tends to develop much faster than dry age-related macular degeneration cases.

Are There Any Signs or Symptoms of Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

There are few symptoms or signs to watch out for in age-related macular degeneration, at least at the beginning and early stages. Advanced age-related macular degeneration can cause you to lose all of your central vision.

But first, your central vision may start to appear blurry. You may also see spots.

However, the earliest sign of age-related macular degeneration is that straight lines can appear wavy. If you experience this symptom, you should see your eye doctor at St. Luke’s Cataract & Laser Institute as soon as possible.

The best way to diagnose age-related macular degeneration while it’s still in the early stages is to have regular eye exams. Regular eye exams can help your eye doctor diagnose eye conditions before they affect your vision. However, to know how regularly you should schedule eye exams with your ophthalmologist, you should know your risk level of developing age-related macular degeneration.

Risk Factors of Developing Age-Related Macular Degeneration

There are many risk factors for developing age-related macular degeneration. They include the following:

  • Being over 50
  • Being a female
  • Being a smoker
  • Eating a high-fat diet
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Over-exposure to UV light without proper protection like sunglasses or wide-brimmed hats
  • Having light-colored irises
  • Being farsighted
  • Having a family history of age-related macular degeneration

You may have some control over some of these factors. You can lower your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration by not smoking, having a balanced diet, and staying active.

However, it’s impossible to eliminate your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration due to risk factors outside your control. This is why you should have regular eye exams, especially once you turn 50.

These only become more important as you continue aging and getting older and should become something you have more often with age. You may need to see your eye doctor yearly if you exhibit other risk factors. Talk to your eye doctor about your risk so they can recommend how often to have eye exams and set up the best schedule for when to have them.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When you have a comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor will examine your retina by dilating your pupils to look through them and use specialized imaging equipment. Looking through your pupils allows your ophthalmologist to spot the early signs of retinal diseases like age-related macular degeneration to ensure they are diagnosed, monitored, and treated.

There isn’t currently any treatment for dry age-related macular degeneration. However, your eye doctor can prescribe a vitamin regimen that can help reduce the progression of the eye condition. They can also monitor the condition and track how it progresses.

There are treatments for wet age-related macular degeneration. There is no cure, and once damage to the macula has occurred, it is impossible to reverse it.

But treatments can prevent further damage to the macula. These treatments usually aim to shrink blood vessels and prevent them from growing.

Usually, this is done by using anti-VEGF injections to stop the production of VEGF proteins in the eye and slow the progression of the eye condition. It may also be done using laser therapies.

Wet age-related macular degeneration acts more rapidly than dry age-related macular degeneration. For this reason, it’s crucial to receive the quickest diagnosis and undergo treatment as soon as possible.

To learn more about age-related macular degeneration and your risk, make an appointment at St. Luke’s Cataract & Laser Institute in Clearwater, FL, to consult with one of our retina care specialists.