Macular Degeneration Symptoms: Understanding the Signs

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Macular Degeneration Symptoms

Macular Degeneration, commonly known as Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), is a deterioration of the retina and choroid, leading to a loss in visual acuity.

AMD occurs when aging damages the Macula, the part of the eye that controls the sharpness of vision.

Since Macula is located in the retina’s center, damage to it affects your central vision too.

It is a prevalent condition and the leading cause of blindness in people over 50.

According to a global study that was published on NIH, 288 million people worldwide may have AMD by 2040.

This article addresses the Macular Degeneration symptoms and the diagnosis of the condition in detail.

Macular Degeneration symptoms

Macular Degeneration affects your central vision. 

You can not see fine details no matter the distance. But the peripheral (side) vision stays normal.

That is, if you are looking at a clock, you will be able to see the numbers clearly, but the clock’s hands may not be visible.

stages of dry AMDSource: Prostock_Studio
Vision Difficulty

Symptoms of AMD depend on its stages.

There are three stages of dry AMD. The last stage can be either dry or wet AMD.

StageSigns
Early 1.  No symptoms
Intermediate1.  Some people see a blurred spot in the central vision
2.  Might need more light for doing tasks
Advanced (can be dry or wet AMD)1.  Over time, a blurred spot in the center may get bigger and darker
2.  Difficulty in reading and recognizing faces

Dry Macular Degeneration (Atrophic AMD)

Dry AMD is quite frequent, affecting about 80% of people with AMD.

If you have dry AMD, parts of the Macula in your eyes get thinner with age.

Early signs of Macular Degeneration are pale yellow lesions (Proteins) formed beneath the retina, called drusen.

Fact:
Drusen are usually harmless but can result in dry Macular Degeneration if they accumulate.

People at an early stage of AMD have several small or a few medium-sized drusen.

At the intermediate stage, a person with AMD may have many medium-sized drusen or one or more large drusen.

Straight lines may look distorted and blurry to your affected eye at this stage.

If AMD progresses to its advanced stage, it can sometimes result in wet AMD.

Wet Macular Degeneration

Wet Macular Degeneration, also called Advanced Neovascular AMD, is the advanced stage of dry Macular Degeneration.

This condition is less common than dry MD but much more serious.

In addition to drusen, Wet AMD usually occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow under the Retina, causing damage to the Macula.

In many cases, wet Macular Degeneration does not show signs until your vision becomes blurry.

Over time, the blurred spot at the center of your vision may get bigger and darker, covering your central vision.

Reading and recognizing faces becomes difficult at this stage until they are close to you.

People with dry AMD in only one eye do not notice any changes in their vision as they can see clearly with the other eye.

Thus some people start to see the signs of AMD only if it affects both of their eyes.

Recommended Read :
To learn about the treatments for AMD, read the article The Road to Recovery: A Guide to Macular Degeneration Treatments.

Macular Degeneration diagnosis

Macular Degeneration is usually classified as dry and wet AMD.

The condition and its type are diagnosed by observing the retina and the layers beneath it.

Macular Degeneration diagnosisSource: GoodLifeStudio_From_Getty_Images_Signature
Eye Testing

The progression of this condition is rapid and sudden. Thus it becomes crucial to diagnose the disease as early as possible.

There are no genetic tests or ways to predict who will develop it.

However, a few ways are available to diagnose the condition:

Fluorescein Angiography (FA)

Fluorescein Angiography is a process to diagnose eye diseases.

In FA, your ophthalmologist will inject a yellow dye (Fluorescein) in your vein and take pictures. 

This dye makes your blood vessels shine, making it easier for your doctor to see where the problem is and how to treat it.

Warning
The effects of the FA procedure can last for several hours. Since it causes blurry vision and light sensitivity, it is essential to be sure of a few things:
1.  Bring sunglasses to your appointment
2.  Do not drive home by yourself after the appointment

Indocyanine Green Angiography (ICGA)

The Indocyanine Green Angiography procedure is similar to Fluorescein Angiography. But ICG Angiography uses green dye, which fluoresces in infrared light.

Infrared wavelengths can penetrate the retinal layers making the circulation in deeper layers more visible if photographed with an infrared-sensitive camera.

ICG Angiography is used to acquire an angiogram of the choroid. 

AMD occurs in response to abnormal growth of vessels from the choroidal vasculature to the neurosensory retina. 

Thus ICG stays in the choroidal and retinal regions allowing your doctor to observe the distinct vessels in the area.

Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT)

Optical Coherence Tomography is a non-invasive method that uses light waves to take cross-section pictures of your retina.

Your ophthalmologist can see distinctive layers of the retina. This allows him to map and measure their thickness, which helps with diagnosis.

Also Read: You can also go through the article, Which Eye Vitamin is Best for Macular Degeneration?

Takeaway

Age-related Macular Degeneration affects an individual’s central vision and sharpness.

People do not have any symptoms at the earlier stages of AMD. Thus it becomes crucial to have regular appointments with your ophthalmologist after 50.

As the condition progresses, you may have difficulty reading and other tasks and need more light to see clearly.

If you think you have any of these symptoms, speak with your doctor at once.

Frequently asked questions

At what age does Macular Degeneration usually begin?

Macular Degeneration is an age-related condition. It usually affects people over 50. After the age of 75, one in three people has some form of Macular Degeneration. If inherited, it can sometimes also affect young people.

Can Macular Degeneration be cured?

Currently, there is no cure for Macular Degeneration. But proper diagnosis and early treatment can help control the condition. To slow down the effects of the disease you can take nutritional supplements and Anti-angiogenic drugs.

Can you go completely blind from Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration affects your central vision, but your peripheral vision remains intact. So you do not go completely blind from it.

Citations:
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