Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Month serves as an important reminder for people to stay on top of their eye health. AMD is one of the most common causes of vision loss later in life, affecting millions of Americans.
We talked to Dr. David Eichenbaum, an ophthalmologist at Retina Vitreous Associates of Florida in Tampa, FL, about what people should know about AMD and ways people can preserve their vision.
Nice to meet you, Dr. Eichenbaum. First off, can you tell us more about what AMD is?
Definitely, thank you for having me here to talk about this very important and timely subject. AMD is a disease that impacts the retina — the part of the eye that gives you sharp, central vision — and it’s a leading cause of blindness in people 60 and over.
There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. While most people start off with dry AMD, about 10-15% of them progress to wet AMD, which can then lead to more rapid and severe vision loss. In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels can form under the retina and leak blood or fluid out, causing swelling and damage.1
Approximately 11 million Americans have AMD, and about 1.1 million of those are affected by wet AMD.2
What are some of the signs and symptoms of wet AMD to pay attention to?3
In the early stages of AMD, people may not notice any visual symptoms; however, the symptoms and signs of wet AMD conversion can sometimes come on quite suddenly and quickly. That’s why I recommend annual dilated eye exams with your eye doctor or ophthalmologist. Common wet AMD symptoms include sudden blurred vision, blind spots in the middle of the field of vision, difficulty distinguishing colors and edges or lines appearing wavy.
What are the risk factors for developing wet AMD?4
The risk for developing AMD tends to increase with age, especially once you’re 60 or older. The risk is also higher for women, as well as people with high blood pressure, or people who smoke or are overweight. There’s also a genetic component, as wet AMD can run in families. People with any one or combination of these risk factors should definitely ask their eye doctor about their likelihood of developing either dry or wet AMD.
How is wet AMD treated?1
Early detection is the number one thing you can do to prevent vision loss from AMD. It’s important for everyone to visit their ophthalmologist at least once each year for an eye exam. They have tools they can use to keep track of any vision changes you have or problems inside the eye, in order to help preserve your eye health. Establishing a healthy lifestyle — for example, eating well and getting regular exercise — can not only help prevent AMD but a number of other health issues, too. Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of AMD. Of course, if you’re noticing any changes in your vision or have any of the symptoms, see your ophthalmologist immediately.
If you do develop wet AMD, there are treatments available that can help prevent vision loss, and in some cases, even restore vision. People with wet AMD should speak to their ophthalmologist to determine what the right treatment option is for them. Again, for all types of AMD, time is of the essence — I highly recommend taking any vision changes seriously and speaking with a professional sooner rather than later.
How has COVID-19 impacted people getting treated for wet AMD?
It has definitely been more challenging. The current standard of care for wet AMD requires doctor visits for monitoring and treatment as often as every month, which has been difficult for patients during the pandemic. While safety concerns are certainly understandable, it’s still very important for patients with wet AMD to maintain appointments with their ophthalmologists when possible in order to preserve their vision.
It’s important to note that physicians are taking safety precautions very seriously for necessary in-person eye appointments. There are also remote telehealth appointment options for some conditions. Patients should speak with their ophthalmologists about express or online services and ask them what their safety procedures are for in-office visits if they have any hesitations about going to important checkups.
Where should people go for more information on wet AMD?
For more information on wet AMD, I encourage my patients to visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeSmart website, www.geteyesmart.org.
1 National Eye Institute. Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Available at: https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/age-related-macular-degeneration. Accessed January 13, 2021.
2 BrightFocus Foundation. Macular Degeneration Prevention and Risk Factors. Available at: http://www.brightfocus.org/macular/prevention-and-risk-factors. Accessed January 13, 2021.
3 National Eye Institute. Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Available at: https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/age-related-macular-degeneration. Accessed January 13, 2021.
4 BrightFocus Foundation. Macular Degeneration Prevention and Risk Factors. Available at: http://www.brightfocus.org/macular/prevention-and-risk-factors. Accessed January 13, 2021.