Age-related Macular Degeneration

November 12, 2012

Age-related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration, AMD, is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness among Americans who are 65 years and older. It occurs due to the degeneration of the macula, which is a part of retina responsible for central vision.

Characteristic Features

Age-related macular degeneration can be classified as dry or wet. The dry AMD is an early stage of the disease that occurs due to the thinning of macular tissues and deposition of pigments on it. In about 10 percent of the cases, dry AMD progresses into wet AMD and leads to formation of new blood vessels that leak blood and fluid into the macular tissue. Although old age is the main cause, there is an underlying genetic component to the condition as well. White women are at an increased risk of getting AMD. It can also occur as a result certain anti-psychotic medications. High blood pressure, lighter eye color and obesity will also increase your chances of getting AMD.

Age-related macular degeneration begins as gray areas in your retina along with distorted vision. The symptoms progress slowly and painlessly into complete blindness. Your doctor may be able to diagnose the early stages of AMD by examining your retina using the Amsler grid that measures your central vision.

Treatment

There is no cure for age-related macular degeneration. Certain treatments may delay the progression of the disease, depending on the stage and the type of the disease. Medications such as Lucentis, Eylea, Macugen and Visudyne can improve vision in individuals with macular degenerations.

Nutrition

Some nutrients such as zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamins A, C and E may help lower your risk of getting AMD or slow down the progression of dry macular degeneration. High levels of antioxidants and zinc can also prevent the free-radical mediated damage of retina, which may in turn, contribute to age-related macular degeneration. An Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) conducted by the National Eye Institute also assessed the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, and found that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish can protect against macular degeneration, while omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils increased the risk of AMD. Lutein and pigments such as zeaxanthin found in green, leafy vegetables may also benefit patients with age-related macular degeneration.

Stem Cells and Macular Degeneration

Researchers are also looking at embryonic stem cells to cure or halt the progression of age-related macular degeneration. When retinal pigment cells obtained from stem cells were injected under the retina of animal models, the new cells helped restore the epithelium, and stopped the degeneration of retina. Clinical trials of the stem cell therapy are being conducted by a biotech company Advanced Cell Technology in patients with dry AMD. While critics are skeptical about the success and are worried that the immune system will reject the new retinal cells, researchers of the study are confident because eye does not have sufficient number of immune cells to reject the foreign tissue. If the trials are safe and successful, it will open new avenues in the treatment of age-related macular degeneration.

Regular eye checkup may help monitor the condition. Some low vision devices such as handheld and video magnifiers and talking book players also help with mobility and specific visual tasks.

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