AMD (Age-related Macular Degeneration) is a condition that affects central vision and is associated with aging. It is important to note however that deteriorating vision is not an inevitable part of the aging process but the result of a particular condition that can, when diagnosed early enough be successfully treated.
In the over 50s, AMD is the leading cause of sight loss.
AMD affects the macula - a small part of the eye responsible for central vision which allows you to see detail. AMD usually starts in one eye and is highly likely to affect the other eye at a later stage.
There are different forms and stages of AMD. Dry AMD is the most common form of the condition and develops slowly, eventually leading to loss of central vision.
Wet AMD is less common affecting approximately 15% of all those who develop the condition and is result of blood vessels at the back of the eye leaking, causing scarring. Wet AMD can unfortunately cause more rapid loss of vision, however, if AMD is diagnosed early enough it can be effectively treated.
Some patients with AMD will develop geographic atrophy (GA), which refers to regions of the retina where cells waste away and die (atrophy). Sometimes these regions of atrophy look like a map to the doctor who is examining the retina, hence the term geographic atrophy. The regions of atrophy result in a blind spot in the visual field.
Once GA starts the region of atrophy can expand slowly over several years until the central vision is lost. Patients with wet AMD will sometimes have GA before, during, or after they have the wet form of AMD; they are not mutually exclusive.
The exact causes of AMD are still unknown. Although there can be a history of the condition in certain families, AMD is still not believed to be genetic, however, if close relatives have been affected by sight loss in the past, then it may be worth getting your eyes checked more regularly.
Studies have shown a definite link between smoking and AMD, while other factors such as high blood pressure and poor diet can also lead to a greater risk of developing the condition. Indeed, studies have shown that vitamins C and E as well as beta-carotene, copper and zinc supplements in your diet, can help reduce the risk of developing AMD.
We are learning more and more about AMD all of the time and to ensure that we are bringing you the best and most relevant information on the condition, Retina International will launch an On-Line AMD Toolkit later this autumn. The easy to use toolkit will have updates on research and development, treatment options as well as assistive technologies to help those affected and those with a particular interest in the condition.
On AMD Week all stakeholders including patients and their representatives, clinicians, researchers and industry are working together to raise awareness of this condition. We want the policy makers who develop and implement health legislation to know and understand that sight loss is not just a natural part of aging but the direct result of conditions that can be treated if the diagnosis process is effective. This is not always the case in every country, Retina International and its members is fighting to ensure that no one loses their sight unnecessarily.
As AMD generally affects the working population it is imperative that it is prioritised in the health system so that citizens all over the world can contribute to society as they wish to do - and for as long as possible.
The figures for sight loss are alarming with an estimated 36 million cases of blindness and 217 million people with moderate or severe visual impairment (MSVI), according to a study published 2 August in The Lancet Global Health journal.
The Vision Loss Expert Group, who are the authors of this study, forecast there will be almost 115 million cases of blindness and 588 million people with MSVI in 2050. The study also stated that vision impairment and age-related eye diseases affect economic and educational opportunities, reduce quality of life, and increase the risk of death.
The Key findings of the report are:
- 36 million people are blind
- 217 million people have severe or moderate visual impairment (distance)
- 253 million people visually impaired
- 1.1 billion people with near-vision impairment
- 89% of visually impaired people live in low and middle-income countries
- 55% of visually impaired people are women
- Although the absolute numbers are increasing, the age-standardized prevalence of impairment has dropped significantly from 4.58% in 1990 to 3.38% in 2015.
This figures are leading to further concern as blindness is not considered a life limiting disease and therefore it does not get the attention within the healthcare system that it so desperately needs.
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