How to Detect Macular Degeneration

As we age, it's normal to experience some degree of vision loss. But if you notice your vision is beginning to dim or distort, especially if you're over 60, it may be a sign of AMD, or age-related macular degeneration.

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Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in individuals over 50, and is characterized by blurriness, the formation of blind spots, and the appearance of straight lines appearing wavy.

The condition is often genetic, but can also be affected by weight, smoking, hypertension, or a diet high in saturated fat. While there's no cure for macular degeneration, it rarely causes blindness and there are potential treatments your eye doctor can implement to slow its onset and help prevent severe vision loss.

Unfortunately, the early and intermediate stages of macular degeneration do not have any symptoms.  If you suspect you have macular degeneration, or if you have a history of macular degeneration in your family, make an appointment with your eye doctor.

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Macular degeneration comes in two forms, dry and wet. Dry is most common and is caused by the protein drusen forming in the macula. Wet is more serious and is caused by blood vessels growing beneath the retina. If left untreated, it can cause an increase in blind spots or even a loss of central vision.

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The only way to detect macular degeneration in the early stages is to have a special eye exam, and your doctor can include certain tests for macular degeneration during a routine eye exam. It’s important that your doctor reviews your medical and family history, as well as conducting a thorough eye exam.

Your eye doctor may also do various other tests, including:

  • Dilated eye exam. Your eye doctor will put drops in your eyes to dilate them and use a special instrument to see your retina. Your doctor will look for small yellow deposits called drusen which might appear under the retina. The appearance of drusen is an early sign of macular degeneration.
  • Visual acuity test. This test measures how well you see at distances.
  • Amsler grid vision test. During an eye exam, your eye doctor may ask you to look at an Amsler grid. This is a pattern of straight lines designed like a checkerboard. If the lines look wavy to you, it could be a sign of macular degeneration.
  • Fluorescein angiography. This test involves your doctor injecting a colored dye into a vein in your arm. Photos are taken as the dye travels to your eye and enters the blood vessels in your retina. The images will show if any blood vessels are leaking into the macula, a part of your retina.
  • Optical coherence tomography. This is a noninvasive imaging test that shows a magnification of your retina. Your doctor will be able to see changes in your retina such as thinning, thickening or swelling.

If you suspect you have macular degeneration, or if you have a history of macular degeneration in your family, make an appointment to have an eye exam to check for macular degeneration.

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