Doctors answer the most frequently asked questions:
About 25 to 30 million people worldwide are affected by AMD, including one million in Canada. AMD is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over the age of 55 in the industrialized world. The dry form accounts for 85 to 90 percent of AMD patients, and the wet form for 10 to 15 percent. Overall prevalence of AMD increases gradually with age: it affects about one to two percent of people between 50 and 65 years of age, 10 percent between 65 and 75 years of age and 25 percent between 75 and 85.
The most common symptoms of AMD are a need for more light when reading, a gradual reduction in far and near visual acuity and sometimes distortion of straight lines (metamorphopsia) and appearance of dark or blurry areas (scotoma). Changes in vision may not be noticeable at the beginning.
No one knows exactly what causes AMD. Probably there are a number of factors involved. We do know, however, that age and family history are two major risk factors.
AMD does not cause blindness. It causes a loss of both near and far central vision, which can make certain activities, such as reading, diffi cult. Peripheral vision remains intact, which means those affected can get around on their own.
An optometrist or ophthalmologist can detect AMD by examining the back of the eye (ocular fundus examination), which will also indicate the type and severity of the disease.
An emergency consultation with a vision specialist is required when a sudden major change in vision is noticed.
AMD is not caused by prolonged reading, working at a computer, watching television or intensive use of the eyes for close work.
To date, the onset of AMD has not been associated with use of any medication.
There is currently no known preventive therapy for AMD. However, an antioxidant-rich diet may protect against AMD.
Recent data suggest AMD is hereditary in some cases. Scientists have recently identified some of the genes associated with macular degeneration.
There is no treatment for the dry form of AMD, but its progression can sometimes be slowed by taking nutritional supplements. The wet form of AMD, which is more rare but also more aggressive, can be stopped. Available treatments can often lead to an improvement in vision.
Yes. Existing therapies have proven effective in slowing the progression of symptoms of AMD. Even better, certain treatments for the wet form can improve vision.
There is no operation that can cure AMD. Surgery is used in AMD only in rare cases of massive hemorrhage.
Signs and symptoms of AMD may appear in only one eye at first. Eventually, both eyes will be affected, though severity and speed of vision loss will differ. Close to 50 percent of people with wet AMD in one eye will be affected in both eyes within five years.
Monitoring by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist is indispensable if you have AMD. The treatment required and the frequency of visits will be determined by your vision specialist.
No, AMD is not painful. The eye examinations required and the treatments available are not painful either.
Most people with AMD keep their driver’s licenses for a very long time. Corrected visual acuity must be not less than 6/15 (20/50) to drive in Canada. When AMD causes a major loss of visual acuity, the patient is no longer able to drive.
Yes. Air pressure changes in an airplane do not pose a risk for people with AMD.
Most people with AMD can continue to live alone without difficulty. However, the person’s physical condition and the layout of the home (stairs, etc.) are important factors.
Yes. Certain tools have been developed to make it easier for people who are visually impaired to get around— tactile transit system maps, for example.
There are numerous vision aids (magnifiers, closed circuit televisions, etc.) that facilitate daily activities for people with AMD.
No, glasses cannot bring back vision lost. No matter what type of glasses are used, the dark spot will always remain in the field of vision of people with AMD.
A very well-balanced diet and certain food guidelines are recommended for people with AMD: lots of fruits, vegetables and fish, and little fat.
It’s always a good idea to quit smoking. Smokers are at higher risk of developing AMD. Recent studies also show that people with AMD who continue to smoke increase their risk of developing a more severe form of the disease
An ophthalmologist may prescribe nutritional supplements (antioxidants) for anyone with dry AMD at high risk of developing wet AMD. However, nutritional supplements cannot substitute for a healthy, varied and balanced diet.