Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive disorder involving the retina that can eventually lead to blindness. Although a cure for AMD does not yet exist, treatments are available, and those with the condition can take practical steps to delay the progression of AMD and keep their vision for as long as possible. Vision screening is a critical tool in the fight against vision loss due to AMD.
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Understanding Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Our sense of vision depends on light-sensitive cells called rods and cones that receive light and convert light into nerve impulses. These cells cover a structure called the retina. Retina means “net” in Latin. The retina contains a dense network of blood vessels that provide rods and cones with energy and oxygen.
The rods, cones, and many other cells that support them require energy. Densely packed cells at the very back of your eye require the most energy. They receive light from the center of your field of vision, where objects and words are when you focus your eyes.
The macula (Latin for “spot”), a part of the retina with a dense supply of blood vessels, enables us to see things in the center of our field of vision. Without the blood supply in the macula, the rods and cones there could not function. The vision centers of our brain could not receive information about what is right in front of our eyes.
AMD is brought on by damage to nerves and light-sensitive cells in the retina. Glasses cannot correct visual impairment due to AMD. However, magnifying glasses and other assistive devices can help people with moderate visual impairment.
Types of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration can be either dry or wet. Most people with AMD have the less severe dry form, but having dry AMD puts a person at risk of developing wet AMD. Wet and dry AMD affect central vision and do not cause problems for peripheral vision.
Dry Macular Degeneration
The dry form of macular degeneration involves a gradual thinning within the macula. The macula develops fat deposits called drusen, which take their name from a German word for “rocks.”
Compare the macula to the muscles of our bodies as we age. They might be thinner and less powerful than before, and there might be more fat around them. However, they still do the same job. However, weakened muscles, like weakened maculas, are at greater risk for injury–in this case, wet macular degeneration.
Wet Macular Degeneration
Wet macular degeneration occurs when blood vessels leak or rupture on the retina, disrupting its blood supply and causing sudden damage to the rods, cones, and other supporting cells. Whereas dry macular degeneration is often a precursor to damage, wet macular degeneration is that damage.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration in Canada Today
According to the organization Fighting Blindness Canada, AMD affects up to 2.5 million Canadians and is the most common reason people over age 50 suffer visual impairment. AMD can cause a loss of independence and high health care costs.
Symptoms of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Dry macular degeneration often causes no symptoms, but it can cause some blurring of vision. Wet macular degeneration causes severe visual impairment, particularly in central vision. Due to the sudden and often irreversible consequences of wet macular degeneration, it is essential to screen for dry AMD as a warning sign for potential wet AMD.
The signs of dry AMD are often subtle and can occur without any pain. People often miss the early signs or attribute them to getting older rather than having a specific medical condition. Signs to look out for include.
- Difficulty seeing or reading in dim light
- Distortions in the center of the field of vision
- Difficulty adapting to dim light when you enter a darkened room
- Blurry vision or a noticeable blind spot in the center of your field of vision
- Difficulty with tasks like reading and recognizing faces that require detailed vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Reduced ability to perceive and distinguish colours
Symptoms of Wet AMD are similar but often occur rapidly as blood vessels leak into the retina. If you experience sudden visual impairment, go to your doctor as soon as possible.
Treatment of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Medical science does not yet know how to eliminate the effects of age-related macular degeneration on the retina or stop the degenerative changes from happening. However, some treatments can help you manage the symptoms and keep your retina healthy for as long as possible. The suggestions in this article are not medical advice or a substitute for professional medical care.
Nourishing the Retina
Vitamins and minerals are essential to the health of your retina and the light-sensitive rods and cones. Eat a balanced diet and take any supplements that your doctor recommends.
Improving Blood Flow
Anything that you can do to improve blood flow to your retina should help the cells in your retina get the energy and oxygen they need. Some lifestyle changes that promote cardiovascular health include:
- Quitting smoking, if you smoke
- Reducing the amount of salt in your diet
- Getting regular, moderate exercise
- Control diabetes and blood pressure if these are a concern for you
Preventing Further Damage
Ultraviolet radiation damages the eyes. Wearing wraparound sunglasses with UV protection limits UV damage and can slow the progression of AMD.
Targeting Blood Vessel Growth
Treatments with an Antivascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) slow the growth of the abnormal blood vessels that threaten the macula. Photodynamic therapy uses lasers and light-sensitive dye to destroy blood vessels that could cause retinal damage.
Diagnosing Age-Related Macular Degeneration
According to an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, regular eye exams can detect AMD.
An ophthalmologist might perform a visual field test using a simple tool called an Amsler grid. The Amsler grid consists of black horizontal and vertical lines similar to the ones you might find on a sheet of graph paper. If you have normal vision and look at the center of the grid, you should see the lines clearly both in the center and at the grid’s edges.
A person with AMD who looks at the grid might see distortions. The lines in the center of the grid might blur and jumble together.
Ophthalmologists might also obtain direct evidence of dry or wet AMD by taking pictures of the eye using special dyes or lasers to learn more about your retina’s blood vessels and blood flow. These tests can distinguish between wet and dry AMD and reveal the condition’s severity.
Are Your Employees Putting Off Vision Exams Because of the Cost?
Regular vision exams can be uncomfortable, and the bills that go along with them can strain the budget. Private insurance can help people manage their vision care costs by supplementing the Canadian government’s coverage. Many insurance companies offer competitive rates for vision coverage.
If you are a Canadian employer, make sure that your workers have the coverage they need to stay healthy as they get older and live productive lives. Companies like Health Rates help Canadian businesses and employees compare rate quotes from several insurance providers, allowing them to choose the plans that are right for them.
Learn about the cost of having a laser eye surgery in Canada in our blog posting.
Protect Your Employees’ Vision Health with Group Enroll
If you’ve looked into setting up health, vision, and dental plans but are unsure what steps to take, let Group Enroll help. We specialize in helping small businesses set up group insurance plans with major Canadian insurance companies.
Don’t let your employees fall prey to conditions like age-related macular degeneration. Ensure that they have coverage options that work for them to get regular exams and screening. Contact Group Enroll today by email at [email protected] and address all mail correspondence to 10 Great Gulf Drive, Unit 5, Vaughan, ON, L4K 5W1.