February is Age Related Macular Degeneration Month: Lower Your Risk of Vision Loss

The top image shows the photo a camera would take; the middle image shows what someone with full vision would see (as we see clearly only in the very center of our vision, what we are looking directly at); and the bottom image shows how someone with vision loss from age-related macular degeneration would see it.

Though age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of low vision and blindness in Americans aged 60 and older, research has improved this disease’s prevention, treatments, and outcomes over the last 10 years. During this month, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) wants to remind people with AMD that they can save their vision with lifestyle changes and new treatment advances. Early detection of AMD is critical, which points to understanding your risk for AMD and getting regular eye exams. 

What is AMD

AMD is a progressive eye disease affecting the retina’s macula or center portion. It causes problems with detail and color vision, resulting in difficulty with up-close tasks like reading, writing, seeing faces, and driving. People with AMD may experience blind spots, blurriness, gray spots, wavy lines, and other symptoms. There are two types of AMD: wet and dry. In the dry form of AMD, debris called “drusen” and pigment changes appear in the macula, which causes central vision loss. Dry macular degeneration is more common than the wet form, and, in some cases, it progresses to wet macular degeneration. Wet AMD causes fragile blood vessels to develop and leak fluids in the macula, resulting in rapid and severe vision loss if not treated. Read about how AMD affects vision.

Know Your Risks

You may be at risk of developing AMD if you:  

  • Are over the age of 60 
  • Have a family history of AMD 
  • Smoke cigarettes 
  • Are overweight or obese 
  • Have high blood pressure 

Read more about risks.

Reduce Your Risks

Schedule a comprehensive eye exam with an ophthalmologist who can help you reduce the risks of vision loss.

According to ophthalmologist and AAO spokesperson Rahul Khurana, MD., here is what you need to know: 

1. AMD may develop silently, with no early symptoms. 

In the earliest stages of AMD, you may not notice any eye or vision changes. The AAO urges adults with no symptoms to have an eye exam by age 40, even if they do not wear glasses or contacts. After age 65, getting an exam every one to two years is recommended. See an ophthalmologist immediately if you notice problems with your eyesight or have eye discomfort. Early diagnosis enables timely treatment, which can preserve vision. 

2. Family history shapes your risk of AMD. 

Talk to your family to learn about their eye health. If a close family member has AMD, you are more likely to get the disease. Tell your doctor about any family history of AMD to improve your early detection and treatment chances.  

3. Treatments for macular degeneration are more effective than ever. 

Fifteen years ago, wet AMD often caused blindness, and no treatment was available. While there is still no treatment for dry AMD, now there are sight-saving treatments for wet AMD. With the use of anti-VEGF drugs, fewer people are going blind. And in the future, treatments like stem cell therapy may make it possible to prevent vision loss from AMD. 

4. Vitamins can slow AMD (but not in all cases). 

If you have AMD, you may have heard that the AREDS 2 vitamin formula can help slow the disease. Clinical trials show that these vitamins for AMD can help with intermediate or advanced AMD in one eye. Trials have not shown that they prevent AMD in people who do not have the disease. Ask your eye doctor which vitamin formula is right for you. 

5. Smoking increases your risk of macular degeneration. 

Many studies have found that smoking cigarettes can increase the risk of AMD. Smoking also increases the speed at which the disease worsens. If you smoke, you are twice as likely to get AMD compared with a nonsmoker. The good news is that stopping smoking is the best way to lower your AMD risk. People who quit smoking 20 years ago have the same risk of AMD as people who have never smoked. 

6. Daily vision checking at home is effective at monitoring AMD progression. 

The Amsler grid is a simple chart that people with dry AMD can use at home to check for changes in their vision. All you do is look at it once every day! Learn how to use the Amsler grid to track the progression and risk of AMD-related vision loss.  The images below are of an Amsler grid. The first image shows how the Amsler grid may appear to a person with normal sight and the second shows how it may seem to a person with age-related macular degeneration. These images of the grids are much smaller than normal size. If you have dry AMD, your eye care professional can tell you how to use it and supply this handy screening tool.

the image  shows an Amsler Grid as seen with normal vision.
this image is how the Amsler Grid may appear to a person with age-related macular degeneration.
Replica of Amsler Grid

7. Eating certain foods may cut your risk of macular degeneration. 

Studies have shown that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are good for eye health. Studies link eating these foods with a reduced risk of AMD — but not when taken as supplements. Other nutrients that help eye health include lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and vitamin C. 

To help cut AMD risk and maintain eye health, eat cold-water fish (salmon and tuna), citrus fruits, kale, spinach, corn, broccoli, squash, and black-eyed peas. 

8. Exercise can help protect your vision as you age. 

Many studies show getting regular exercise can benefit your eyes. One study found that exercising thrice a week reduced the risk of getting wet AMD by 70%. Studies also show that exercise reduces the risk of all stages of AMD. 

Living with AMD

Vision aids and low vision therapy can help people with AMD live independently. Learn more about living with vision loss here on VisionAware. Look for vision rehabilitation specialists in your area using VisionAware’s directory of services so you can learn to make the most of your remaining vision. 

Check out the book Twilight Losing Sight Gaining Insight  by Henry Grunwald, a memoir from a journalist living with AMD. Available through the NLS Talking Book program DB49236 and Amazon. 

EyeCare America Offers Free Eye Exams and Vision Treatment 

Older adults may qualify for EyeCare America, an award-winning American Academy of Ophthalmology program. EyeCare America offers exams and sight-saving care, often at no out-of-pocket cost. Visit EyeCare America to see if you qualify for free services or medication assistance through prescription assistance programs. To reduce your risk of losing vision from AMD, know the risk factors, learn your family medical history, and keep your regular eye appointments with an ophthalmologist.  

Additional Information

The Older Individuals Who Are Blind program at the National Research and Training Center offers the course Common Adult Eye Conditions, which gives information about the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prognosis of age-related macular degeneration; and other adult eye conditions.

Vision Rehabilitation Revitalizes Older Woman

Six Things to Know about AMD

AMD Simulator