About Age-related Macular Degeneration


What is Macular Degeneration?

The human retina is made up of layers of cells that line the entire inside of the globe of the eye. The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina, located in the center.  The macula is about the size of the head of a straight pin, and contains millions of light-sensing cells that provide sharp, detailed, “straight-ahead” central vision.  When light strikes the back of the eye, the cells of the macula and the rest of the retina send electrical signals to the brain through the optic nerve.  The brain translates the electrical signals into the images we see.  When macula cells are damaged or destroyed, the images received by the brain are distorted.

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive eye condition affecting as many as 15 million Americans and millions more around the world. There is no cure for AMD which destroys the clear central vision necessary for reading, driving, identifying faces, watching television, safely navigating stairs and performing other daily tasks we take for granted. It can make it more difficult to see contrast and can change the way color is seen. Peripheral vision may not be affected, and it is possible to see “out of the corner of your eye”.
  • AMD is the number one cause of severe vision loss and legal blindness in adults over 60 in the U.S. It escalates with age.  More than one senior in three over the age of 75 is likely to develop signs of AMD, with over 200,000 new cases diagnosed every year.
  • There are two types of AMD – atrophic or “dry AMD" and neovascular or “wet AMD”.  All AMD starts in the dry form.  There are treatments available for wet AMD to stop disease progression, and research is underway to find an effective treatment to limit the vision loss that occurs with dry AMD. Even with vision loss resulting from AMD, training and special devices can promote independence and a return to favorite activities.

How did I get AMD?

There are some things you can do to reduce the risk of AMD.  Research with large populations around the world has revealed a list of lifestyle factors that can be changed.  Other things that contribute to AMD include your family history and age. While you can’t control these risk factors, it’s important to know about them.  

Things You Can’t Change

  • Age – AMD signs are present in about 14% of people 55–64; 20% of those age 65–75; and up to 40% of individuals over age 75.
  • Gender – AMD is more common in women than in men.
  • Race – AMD is more common in Caucasians than other races, but it exists in every ethnicity.
  • Eye Color – AMD is more common in people with blue eyes.
  • AMD in One Eye – If you have AMD in one eye, your chance of developing it in the other eye is higher. Dry AMD in one eye may predispose you to wet AMD in the other eye.
  • Genetics – If others in your family have AMD, you have a greater risk of developing it.

Risk Factors You Can Change

  • Smoking – Smoking increases your risk, especially if AMD runs in your family.
  • Diet – A poor diet, low in antioxidants and high in saturated fats and processed foods may increase your risk of developing AMD.
  • Obesity – People who are very overweight have a higher risk of AMD.
  • Exercise – A sedentary lifestyle contributes to AMD.
  • Cholesterol – High cholesterol is bad for your eyes and your heart.
  • Blood Pressure – High blood pressure may be involved in AMD.
  • Sun Exposure – Ultraviolet and blue light from the sun and electronics can damage the retina.


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