Know Your Risks and Save Your Sight

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has been in the news lately due to the revelation by Oscar-winning actress Judy Dench that she is battling the eye disease, which is the leading cause of severe vision loss among Americans ages 65 and over.

Knowing the risk factors, being aware of family history, and keeping regular appointments with an Eye M.D. can help reduce the risks for vision loss from macular degeneration. In its most severe form, known as wet AMD, the disease can lead to permanent loss of central vision which is essential for driving, reading, and recognizing faces.

"The past few years have been marked by significant improvement in understanding the causes and the treatment of AMD," says George Williams, MD, an AMD expert. "New research and clinical advances are helping us to better treat both the 'dry' AMD and 'wet' forms of AMD. One strong risk factor that people may not be aware of is family history. It's important to find out whether your relatives have had AMD, and to tell your Eye M.D., if you have a history of AMD in your family. Knowing your risks can save your sight."

Here are the top 5 risk factors for AMD:

  • Being over the age of 60
  • Having a family history of AMD
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension

People with any two of these risk factors should schedule an appointment for a complete evaluation with an Eye M.D., who may recommend certain preventive measures which can reduce the risk of vision loss from this disorder.

People who are at risk should know the symptoms of wet AMD, the form most likely to cause rapid and serious vision loss. These include sudden, noticeable loss or distortion of vision, such as seeing "wavy" lines. See an Eye M.D. right away if these symptoms occur. Current treatments for wet AMD provide an excellent chance of stopping vision loss and may actually restore some vision when macular degeneration develops. Earlier diagnosis of wet AMD gives a better chance of successful treatment.

There are some AMD risk factors that a person can control, such as smoking and diet, to reduce the risk of vision loss from AMD. Other risk factors such as genetic factors cannot be controlled. However, knowing family medical history is one way to learn whether there may be a genetic predisposition to a disease. One way to reduce AMD risk is to quit smoking or never start. For patients at high risk for developing late-stage AMD, taking a specific, AMD dietary supplement of vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene, along with zinc, has been shown to lower the risk of AMD advancing to advanced stages by 25 percent. Patients should check with their Eye M.D. before starting any dietary supplement.

Are you eligible for a free eye exam?

March is Age-related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology along with EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, want people to know that a simple eye exam can help prevent unnecessary vision loss caused by diabetes. To that end, EyeCare America and thousands of volunteer ophthalmologists throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico are providing eye exams at no out-of-pocket cost to people age 65 and older. The organization and its volunteers are encouraging people to go to www.eyecareamerica.org to see if they are eligible for a free eye exam in their area.

Page updated: Jan. 29, 2014

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