Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is a chronic eye disease that can affect your central vision and occurs when ageing causes damage to the macula – the part of the eye that controls sharp, straight-ahead vision. The macula is part of the retina (the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye).
ARMD is a leading cause of vision loss for older adults. It does not cause complete blindness but losing your central vision can make it harder to see faces, read, drive or do close-up work like cooking or fixing things around the house.
ARMD progresses very slowly in some people and faster in others. If you have early ARMD, you may not notice vision loss for a long time. Therefore, it is vitally important to get regular eye exams with your optometrist to find out if you have this condition.
There are 2 types of ARMD: dry and wet. Most people with ARMD have the dry form. Dry ARMD may present in 3 stages: early, intermediate, and late. ARMD usually progresses slowly over several years. There is no treatment for late dry AMD, but you can find ways to make the most of your remaining vision. If you have late dry AMD in only 1 eye, you can take steps to protect your other eye.
Wet ARMD (also called advanced neovascular ARMD), is a less common type of late ARMD that usually causes faster vision loss. Any stage of dry ARMD can turn into wet ARMD but wet ARMD is always the late stage. It happens when abnormal blood vessels grow in the back of the eye and damage the macula. The good news is that treatment options are available for wet ARMD that usually have high success rates.
The symptoms of ARMD depend on the stage.
- Early dry ARMD doesn’t cause any symptoms.
- In intermediate dry ARMD, some people still have no symptoms. Others may notice mild symptoms, like mild blurriness in their central vision or trouble seeing in low lighting.
- In late ARMD (wet or dry forms) many people notice that straight lines start to look wavy or crooked. You may also notice a blurry area near the centre of your vision. Over time, this blurry area may increase in size or you may see black central spots. Colours may also seem less bright than before, and you may have more trouble seeing in low lighting.
Straight lines looking wavy or distorted is a warning sign for late ARMD. If you notice this symptom, you should see your Optometrist without delay.
Your risk for ARMD increases as you get older. People aged 55 yrs and older are more likely to have ARMD. The risk for ARMD is also higher if you:
- Have a family history of ARMD
- Are Caucasian
- Are a smoker