One of the many ocular conditions our optometrist checks for during your annual exam is age-related macular degeneration, ARMD.  This is the leading cause of vision loss in those 50 years or older.  About eleven million Americans suffer from ARMD.  Although the pathophysiology of this eye disease is still unknown, based on research we do know some risk factors.  It is indicated that hereditary and environmental factors play a role.  Smoking and prolonged sun exposure without UV protection are two of the biggest environmental factors.

ARMD affects the macula, which is a part of the retina that captures your central vision.  Over time, this part of the retina deteriorates and the patient starts to have blurred vision centrally.  As the disease advances, the vision becomes reduced and eventually forms a blind spot centrally, but the patient's peripheral vision remains intact.

There are two types of ARMD, dry and wet.  Dry ARMD is the most common type and it is the slowest progressing of the two.  During the early stages of the condition, the patient usually has no symptoms and it is only diagnosed by an eye doctor during an eye exam.  As the disease progresses, the patient will notice blurred vision centrally and trouble seeing in dimly lit environments.  During the late stage of the disease the patient's vision is greatly affected.  Straight lines will begin to look wavy and the blurred spot will grow and eventually the patient will lose their central vision.  There is currently no treatment for dry ARMD.   Dry ARMD can turn to wet at any stage of the disease.  Wet ARMD is less common, but the progression of the vision loss is much more aggressive.  There are new blood vessels formed, but they are more fragile than a normal blood vessel and they become 'leaky' which can cause bleeding in the retina.  Currently there are treatments available for slowing down the progression of wet ARMD, but no cures for the condition.  These treatments will stop the formation of the new blood vessels and reduce the bleeding.

Even though there are no cures for ARMD, there are some preventative measures that can be taken to reduce your risk.  If you are a smoker, you should highly consider quitting.  You should make wearing sunglasses when outdoors a habit, even during the winter time.  Increase leafy green vegetables in your diet.  You should also have an annual eye exam to make sure ARMD and any other ocular diseases are ruled out, especially if you have a family history of ARMD.