Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration: Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions related to macular degeneration.

Q: I’ve just been diagnosed with AMD. So far my only problem is a very slight distortion of sight in my right eye. Telephone poles and other straight-line objects look a little curved. My left eye is fine. But I’m concerned about the future. Will the disease get worse and worse until I’m completely blind?

A: AMD almost never causes total blindness. It affects mainly central vision needed for viewing objects straight ahead. People with serious loss of central vision still retain side, or peripheral, vision. They can see by turning to the side. Magnifying devices and other low-vision aids are available today. These magnifying lenses and electronic devices can improve vision in people with AMD. Remember, that’s the worst-case situation. Only about 10 percent of people with AMD have the most serious form. This “wet” AMD, which involves bleeding into the retina, causes 90 percent of the severe sight loss.

Q: My ophthalmologist gave me a piece of paper with a Grid-like pattern of lines to take home and look at regularly. She wants me to phone immediately if any of the lines start appearing wavy or blurred. What’s the point?

A: It’s a very important point. The chart is called an Amsler Grid. You should use it to monitor your vision between visits to the doctor. People with normal vision see the center dot in the grid, and all the lines. The lines appear straight and unbroken. Call your doctor right away if holes or blurry spots appear in the grid, or if the lines appear curved, broken, or distorted. It may mean that your AMD is progressing. Quick treatment may bring the disease back under control, and minimize permanent loss of vision.

Q: Friends have told me about a new treatment for AMD calledlaser surgery. I’ve had AMD for 10 years. There’s a blank spot in the center of vision. Can this operation restore my sight? How will the doctor operate on my eyes?

A: Doctors have treated AMD with laser surgery for years. Despite its name, laser surgery does not involve cutting into the eyeball. During the procedure, the doctor focuses a laser beam through the pupil of the eye. The intense light painlessly closes off fragile new blood vessels that grow into the macula when AMD progresses. These vessels often leak fluid and blood that damage macula cells and vision. Unfortunately, it is not a cure. No known treatment can restore dead cells in the macula.

Q: My mother and grandmother both have AMD. Although I’m only 25, I’m worried about getting the disease when I’m 60 or 65. Can young people take any precautions to prevent AMD?

A: There is no scientifically proven way to prevent AMD. The risk of AMD is greater in individuals who have a close, older relative with the disease. People with a family history of AMD may want to take extra care about eating a diet with ample amounts of zinc, vitamins C and E, and beta carotene. These nutrients may help reduce the risk of AMD. Chat with your doctor about taking dietary supplements, as well. Protecting your eyes from strong sunlight also may help, especially if you have light-colored eyes. AMD is more common in fair-eyed people. Eye color may explain why AMD is relatively rare in the African-American population. When in the sun, wear eyeglasses that filter out ultraviolet (UV) rays. Avoiding cigarette smoking and environmental cigarette smoke also may help. Studies show that smokers are more apt to develop AMD.

Q: I’ve heard that drinking one or two glasses of wine each day may reduce the risks of AMD. Does wine consumption have any effect?

A: A 1998 study of 3,072 adults did find hints that people who consume small amounts of wine may be less likely to develop AMD. It was published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, and got a lot of publicity. Experts at the National Eye Institute (NEI), however, said wine seemed to have only a very small benefit. Other studies, however, found no such link between wine and AMD. NEI says that more research is needed before it can recommend wine consumption to prevent AMD.

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