The retina is the nerve tissue on the back of the eye that captures the light, similar to the photosensitive film on an analog camera. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs when the small central part of the retina, known as the macula, changes. AMD is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over 60 years of age.
The onset of age-related retinal changes is the appearance of yellowish deposits called “drusen”. A few small drusen won’t cause any change in visual acuity – but they usually grow in size and increase in number over time. This is known as maculopathy, and the accumulation can lead to impairments in vision. In later stages, they can cause image distortions, which patients tend to notice most when reading.
In advanced stages (macular degeneration), these changes may be accompanied by thinning and death of the photosensitive layer in the macula (dry or atrophic macular degeneration). In the dry or atrophic form of macular degeneration, patients often have blind spots in the center of their visual field.
Wet macular degeneration occurs when the oxygen supply to the macula is disturbed and the body reacts with the formation of new, abnormal blood vessels. This damage to the macula leads to rapid and irreversible central vision loss. Once destroyed, it is hard to restore sight. However, there are several treatment options for wet AMD that can be effective if diagnosis and therapy are early.
There are certain factors (genetic and concurrent eye diseases) that increase the risk of developing AMD, and can not be influenced. But there are risk factors for developing AMD that you can control, that have been uncovered by large, global studies.
Adjusting your lifestyle and changing your diet can be beneficial. The effect of excessive lifelong solar radiation is still under discussion: some studies have suggested there’s a relationship between AMD and excessive exposure to the sun (but other studies have found no such association).
If you decide to protect your eyes better, the following movie might give you some insights.