Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Understanding Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

12 Oct 2023Eye Health & General Information

Do you have, or know someone who has age-related macular degeneration?

Also known as AMD, this condition is the third most common cause of blindness and poor vision in our country for older individuals, specifically those past the age of 60.

This makes it vital to recognise the early symptoms of age-related macular degeneration, as this is key to treating and managing the condition. Today, we’ll help with that by taking you through all you need to know about the ailment.

Shinagawa_Blog Piece Mockup_Oct 1-03What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)?

Let’s start with the core problem, which is macular degeneration.

When we speak of macular degeneration, we refer to a condition that causes a gradual loss of central vision while mostly leav- ing peripheral vision untouched. Contrary to conditions like glaucoma, which tends to affect the peripheral vision first.

This vision loss is due to a part of the eye, called the macula, being damaged. This is, in fact, the central region of the retina, and the area which allows us to see images sharply. When damage to it occurs in someone older (as is common), we call it age-related macular degeneration.

So, how does age-related macular degeneration affect vision? Generally, it just worsens the central part of what we can see, and as such, it rarely leads to complete blindness.

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The Two Forms of Age-related Macular Degeneration

Dry AMD is the more common form of age-related macular degeneration, found in 85-90% of cases.

For this, the degeneration of the macula happens gradually. As the cells age and start to break down, damage accrues and waste deposits from the dead cells also start to build up in your eye, furthering the damage.

The more serious variant of AMD is called Wet AMD. This can cause a rapid or sudden drop in vision, and is usually a result o fblood vessels appearing under the retina abnormally.

Blood and fluids can leak out of these blood vessels, which ends up damaging and scarring the retinal cells. With time, this can lead to major losses in vision.

Fortunately, only 10% of dry AMD cases will progress to this more severe form.

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Early Symptoms and Risk Factors of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

So, how can you tell if you have AMD? As it happens, a lot of people actually don’t see age-related macular degeneration symptoms early on.

However, there are some things to try and look out for, to be safe. For instance, the earliest symptom of age-related macular degeneration is a change in your vision.

This change can be acute or gradual. It may even present with something as odd as images suddenly being distorted, e.g. a straight beam appearing to have a wave in it.

Another possibility would be sudden visual obstruction of your central vision. These can range from blurry spots to patches of visual blurring or loss.

Some people also report lowered sensitivity to contrast or difficulty telling similar colours apart.

Who is at risk for AMD?

While there is no perfectly reliable way to predict who shall get age-related macular degeneration, there are some things that have been discovered to have correlations with it.

The following all seem to increase the risk of developing AMD:

  • Positive family history
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Cardiovascular diseases

Age-related macular degeneration is among the more common concerns for our population. For example, a 1997 study found that 1 out of every 4 Singaporean residents aged 60 and above has the condition. 

This emphasises the value of regular eye screenings, especially for anyone at least 50 years old and bearing a family history of the condition.

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Prevention and Treatment for Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Fortunately for us, medical and surgical advances have opened up new treatment options for the condition. In particular, it may be possible to perform intravitreal injections of anti-vascular endothelial growth factors for those with wet AMD.

Intravitreal means injecting something directly into the back of the eye, the space called the vitreous cavity. Anti-vascular endo- thelial growth factors or anti-VEGFs, are antibodies or proteins that help to block abnormal blood vessel growth – which is key in treating wet AMD.

Medications used for this treatment today include the following:

  • Lucentis (Ranibizumab)
  • Eylea (Aflibercept)
  • Vabysmo (Faricimab)

It’s also worth noting that some cases of AMD may benefit from laser therapy. The lasers used include argon laser or Photodynamic therapy.

All of these are designed to stop the disease getting worse but not able to completely cure it. This is why it is important to keep your eyes as healthy as possible.

Healthy diets that deliver all of the necessary nutrients for your body can reduce the odds of developing AMD. There have even been clinical trials (the Age-Related Eye Disease Study AREDS in 2001 and a follow-up study AREDS2 in 2013) backing up the value of a good diet.

The trials seemed to indicate that antioxidant- and vitamin-rich diets lowered the odds of dry AMD progressing into its worse form, wet AMD.

Aside from that, you may want to live a lifestyle avoiding the things known to increase the odds of AMD development. As obesity and smoking are both risk factors, therefore we should try to exercise regularly, lead a healthy lifestyle, and avoid smoking.

Get screened for AMD today

AMD is a condition that affects a good share of Singaporeans over 60, but as you can see, there are ways to try to avoid it as well as treat it if it does present.

Again, however, it’s vital to note that as with glaucoma, it’s not possible to restore vision that has already been lost. This simply underscores the need for regular eye screenings – so that you can take steps to halt the advance of macular degeneration before it does more irreparable damage.

If you want to get screened for AMD and similar eye problems today, reach out to us at the Shinagawa Eye Centre. We can perform all of the assessments you need to better care for your vision.

Call us to enquire or book an appointment for age-related macular degeneration treatment now.