Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects a tiny part of the retina at the back of your eye, called the macula. AMD causes changes to the macula, which leads to problems with your central vision.
AMD affects the vision you use when you’re looking straight at something, for example when you’re reading, looking at photos or watching television. Your central vision can become distorted or blurry, and over time, a blank patch may appear in the centre of your vision. AMD doesn’t affect your peripheral (side) vision, so it doesn’t lead to total loss of sight.
Our Understanding AMD guide is accredited by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, and is designed to give you a detailed understanding of your eye condition and helpful advice on next steps.
You can also download our full guide on AMD as a Word document.
What are the different types of AMD?
There are two main types of AMD – “wet” AMD and “dry” AMD.
Dry AMD is the more common type of AMD. It develops very slowly and causes a gradual change in your central vision. Dry AMD usually takes a long time – sometimes years, to get to its final stage. At its worst, dry AMD causes a blank patch in the centre of your vision in both of your eyes.
About 10 to 15 per cent of people who develop AMD have wet AMD, often having had dry AMD to begin with. Wet AMD can develop very quickly, causing serious changes to your central vision in a short period of time, over days or weeks.
You develop wet AMD when the cells of the macula stop working correctly and your body starts growing new blood vessels to fix the problem. As these blood vessels grow in the wrong place, they cause swelling and bleeding underneath the macula – this is why it’s called “wet” AMD. This new blood vessel growth is medically known as neovascularisation. It causes more damage to your macula and eventually leads to scarring.
Treatment is available for wet AMD, which stops the new blood vessels from growing and damaging your macula. This treatment usually needs to be given quickly before the new blood vessels do too much damage to your macula. If the blood vessels are left to grow, the scarring and the sight loss they cause is usually permanent.
What are the symptoms and when should I seek help?
Everyone can have slightly different symptoms, but usually the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s harder to see detail, such as small print. You may find that your vision has a small blurred area in the centre. Straight lines may look distorted or wavy, or like there’s a little bump in them. You may also find that you’re more sensitive to bright light.
You should have your eyes tested by an optometrist (also known as an optician) if you experience any of these in one or both eyes:
- You have difficulty reading small print despite wearing reading glasses.
- Straight lines start to look wavy or distorted. You can check this by looking at door and window frames, or tiles in your home.
- Your vision isn’t as clear as it used to be.
If your optometrist finds any changes to your macula or any cause for concern, they’ll send a letter to your GP or sometimes directly to the hospital. Based on your optometrist’s letter, the hospital will judge how quickly you need to be seen by the ophthalmologist (also known as a hospital eye doctor) and arrange an appointment for you.
Your optometrist may refer you to the hospital to see an ophthalmologist if they are concerned about your dry AMD diagnosis. If your optometrist suspects that you have wet AMD then you’ll be referred very quickly to an ophthalmologist at the hospital.
Some people diagnosed with dry AMD may find that, with time, new blood vessels grow and they develop wet AMD. If you have dry AMD and you notice a sudden change in either of your eyes, you should let your optometrist or eye hospital know as soon as possible. This is because dry AMD can develop into wet AMD, and if this happens, sight-saving treatment may be possible.
What is the treatment for AMD?
Treating dry AMD
Unfortunately, at the moment there is no way to treat dry AMD. Although research is going on to try and find out why the cells of the macula stop working, this has yet to lead to a proven treatment.
There’s some evidence that high doses of vitamins C and E, the minerals zinc and copper and the micro nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin when taken together may help slow down the progression of dry AMD, particularly if AMD has already caused vision changes in one eye. However, there is no evidence that taking high doses of these vitamins can prevent you from developing AMD in the first place.
A healthy diet full of fruit and vegetables, as well as regular eye tests, can help to keep your eyes as healthy as possible. Find out more about the research into the role of nutritional supplements in AMD.
Treating wet AMD
The treatment available on the NHS for wet AMD is a group of medications called anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) drugs. As new blood vessels form in your eye, your body produces a chemical which encourages further new blood vessel growth. Anti-VEGF drugs interfere with this chemical and stop the vessels from growing, minimising further damage to your sight.
The medication is injected into the vitreous, which is a gel-like substance inside your eye. This is called an intravitreal injection.
For more information on what it is like to have an anti-VEGF injection, watch our video which features Reg talking about having his anti-VEGF injections.
Living with AMD
Both types of AMD can cause severe problems with your central vision. However, most people with AMD have some vision and there are a lot of things you can do to make the most of your remaining vision. This may mean making things bigger, using brighter lighting, or using colour to make things easier to see. We have a series of leaflets with helpful information on living with sight loss, including how to make the most of your sight.
Shirley tells us what it's like living with dry AMD and talks about some of the aids, such as lighting, magnification aids and eye shields, that have helped her stay independent.
Products from our shop that could help
The Macular Society is a UK charity for anyone affected by macular conditions.
NHS Choices has information and advice on AMD.
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