As life expectancy rises, so does the number of people suffering from age-related illnesses. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of lost vision in the elderly, and with so many people living to the age of 80 and beyond, it’s no wonder why AMD is on the rise. Age-related macular degeneration statistics reveal that there are over 2 million people affected by AMD today, a figure that’s expected to grow to 3.4 million over the next decade.
However, breakthroughs are always under way for many medical conditions — and AMD research is no exception. Let’s learn more about recent advancements in AMD research, the risk factors for AMD, and what you need to know about genetic testing for AMD.
AMD affects the center of our retina, leading to blurry vision or blind spots. This type of central vision loss can make everyday activities difficult, including driving, reading, many types of work, and even being able to recognize faces. At the onset of symptoms, straight lines may begin to look wavy, text may appear blurred, or a dark spot may form in the center of your vision. Because the damage caused by AMD is permanent, it’s critical to diagnose and treat it as early as possible.
Being at Risk for AMD
There are many different risk factors for AMD, many of them uncontrollable. For instance, women are more likely to suffer from AMD than men, and people over the age of 80 are at far greater risk than their younger counterparts. However, there are many risk factors that we can control. Smoking nearly doubles your risk for AMD, so quitting is essential to prevention. It’s also important to exercise regularly, maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol, and eat a healthier diet. The best AMD diet is rich in fish and leafy vegetables.
Genetic Testing for AMD
Like you might expect, people who have a family history for AMD are at greater risk. Researchers have already found nearly two dozen genes that may affect your risk for AMD, and there are dozens more suspected of involvement. Combined with the fact that it’s relatively easy to be genetically tested for the genetic markers that we know are involved, it’s easy to see why many people get tested
However, the development of AMD is influenced by environmental factors just as much as our genetic background. Consequently, there are no genetic tests that can diagnose or even predict AMD. That’s why the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends against routine genetic testing.
Unfortunately, the damage caused to the retina by AMD is permanent. Until recently, there was no treatment for end-stage AMD. It was only in the past few years that the FDA has approved a new procedure that can help select patients with end-stage AMD recover some of their central vision.
The CentraSight telescope is a small telescope that’s surgically implanted in the eye. This pea-sized device magnifies and projects images onto a healthy area of the retina, helping patients improve their visual acuity and provide central vision. While this telescope is far from a cure, it will help restore precious central vision for many people who otherwise would have no treatment options at all.
Although developments like the CentraSight telescope are going to help restore sight to thousands of people, early prevention is still our best weapon against AMD. It’s worth remembering that in the early stages of AMD, there may be no symptoms. Anyone over the age of 65 should schedule regular eye exams, especially if they fall into one or more of the at-risk categories.