1st February 2023
7 minute read
Categorised under:
Eye Health

AMD Awareness Month: Understanding and Managing Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the main causes of sight loss in older adults. This February, to mark AMD Awareness Month, we’re sharing some important information about the condition, which affects over 600,000 people in the UK 

What is AMD? 

AMD is an eye disease that affects the macula, the part of the eye responsible for central vision. It’s a condition that gets progressively worse over time, and it makes everyday activities like reading, driving, watching television, and recognising faces more difficult. People with AMD may experience blurred vision and notice a dark or empty space in the centre of their vision, and straight lines can start to look wavy or bent. In some people, AMD can also cause visual hallucinations as their eyes struggle to adapt to changes in their vision. 

Types of AMD 

There are two types of AMD: 

  • Dry AMD is the more common form and is caused by an unwanted build-up of lipids (fats) and protein under the macula, disturbing central vision. It develops slowly over time and can sometimes take years to get to its final stage. There is currently no established medical treatment for dry AMD, although The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) has shown that a specific combination of vitamins and minerals may help to slow down its progression if caught at an early stage. If you’ve been diagnosed with dry AMD, your optometrist may ask you to return for regular appointments, so they can monitor your condition and check for any changes to your eyesight. If your optometrist is concerned about the progression of your AMD or if they notice your vision is getting worse, they may refer you to the hospital to see an ophthalmologist. 
  • Wet AMD, on the other hand, only affects 10-15% of people diagnosed with AMD, and is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the macula, which can lead to rapid vision loss. Wet AMD can’t be cured, but there are treatments that can be given to slow down its progression and prevent your vision from getting worse. Treatment must be started as quickly as possible, so if you’re diagnosed with wet AMD, your optometrist should refer you to your local eye clinic/hospital for treatment within 14 days. During your appointment, your vision will be checked by reading an eye chart and your pupils will be dilated (made bigger) by putting in eye drops. This will allow the ophthalmologist to look at the back of your eye and spot any changes to the macula caused by AMD. 

Early detection is key in managing AMD. Regular eye exams with your optometrist are crucial in catching the condition early, before significant damage has been done to the macula, so if you’ve noticed any of the symptoms mentioned above, please visit your optician as soon as possible. 

What causes AMD? 

Risk factors for AMD include age (it is most common in people aged 65+, but can develop earlier), smoking, a family history of the condition, and a diet high in saturated fats. Other factors that can contribute to the development of AMD include high blood pressure, obesity, and exposure to UV radiation. 

Treatment for AMD 

There is currently no available treatment for dry AMD, but there are two treatment options that can help to slow down the progression of wet AMD: 

  • Anti-VEGF treatment – wet AMD can be treated with regular injections of anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) drugs, which block the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the macula. You can find out more about what’s involved in this treatment here. 
  • Photodynamic therapy – this treatment involves injecting a light-sensitive drug into the bloodstream, followed by shining a special light into the eye to destroy the abnormal blood vessels. Photodynamic therapy is not widely available on the NHS and – as a result – we don’t currently offer this treatment at SpaMedica.  

Will there ever be a cure for AMD? 

There are ongoing research studies and clinical trials to identify whether specific genes play a part in the development of AMD and, if so, whether AMD can be treated by using gene therapy, a technique that modifies a patient’s genes to treat or cure disease. Some of these trials have had positive results but there is, unfortunately, a long way to go before these ground-breaking new treatments are approved and available for use on the NHS. 

I’ve been diagnosed with AMD. What support is available to me? 

If you’ve been diagnosed with AMD, it’s natural to find yourself worrying about the future and how you’re going to cope with changes to your vision. AMD doesn’t cause total blindness but, over time, it can affect a significant proportion of your central vision, making it difficult for you to carry out everyday tasks. Here are some useful tips to help you keep your independence for as long as possible: 

  • Use brighter lighting or contrasting colours to help you differentiate between objects more easily.  
  • Use the text-to-speech accessibility features on your computer and mobile phone, which can read your messages, documents, or webpages aloud.  
  • Buy or borrow large print books, audio books, newspapers, and magazines. E-readers, such as the Kindle or iPad, allow you to read books in large font.  
  • Use talking equipment such as watches, wall clocks, microwaves, and kitchen scales. Audible liquid level indicators warn when a cup or jug is full. Tactile bumps help you find settings on appliances like washing machines. 
  • Use large face clocks and watches, large print stickers for keyboards, and telephones with large numbers.  
  • Ask your ophthalmologist, optometrist, or GP about low vision aids, like magnifiers. 
  • Ask for a referral to your local low vision service – they can give you training on special techniques that help you to make the most of your remaining vision. 
  • Discuss with your ophthalmologist your eligibility to register as sight impaired (partially sighted) or severely sight impaired (blind). It can act as your passport to expert help and sometimes to financial concessions.  
  • Local social services should be able to give you information on staying safe in your home and getting out and about safely.  
  • Being diagnosed with AMD doesn’t always mean you are no longer able to drive a car. Speak to your optometrist or ophthalmologist about whether you can continue to drive, and if you need to report your eye condition to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) and your insurance company.  

You may also find it useful to get in touch with support groups such as: 

The Macular Society, who have a wide range of support services and a great support helpline. 

t: 0300 3030 111   

w: www.macularsociety.org  

The Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB), who offer practical advice about living with sight loss and lots of useful information. 

t: 0303 123 9999  

w: www.rnib.org.uk  

SpaMedica also benefits from a team of dedicated Eye Care Liaison Officers (ECLOs), who provide practical and emotional support to people living with sight loss. Whether you’re still coming to terms with a recent diagnosis, struggling to cope with long-term vision loss and its impact on your day-to-day life, or just looking for someone to listen, we’ll support you every step of the way. We’re here to: 

  • Tell you everything you need to know about your condition and treatment  
  • Talk through any worries you might have 
  • Identify any financial help that’s available to you 
  • Help you get to grips with assistive technology 
  • Put you in touch with local support networks 

With your permission, we’re happy to speak to your family members, too. 

Ask our Reception Team for a referral during your appointment or call 0330 058 4280 and ask to speak to our ECLO team. We’ll arrange for someone to call you back as soon as possible.  

Our ECLOs are accredited by the RNIB. For more information, please visit: https://www.rnib.org.uk/your-eyes/navigating-sight-loss/eye-care-liaison-officers-eclos/    

We hope this article reassures you that there are lots of resources – and support networks – available to help you live well with AMD. 

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