What Patients Should Know About Dry AMD & Geographic Atrophy
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the nation’s leading cause of blindness and vision impairment in people 60 years and older.
This disease causes the central portion of the retina, known as the macula, to weaken and gradually lose functionality. There are two different subtypes of AMD: dry and wet. Dry, or atrophic AMD, is more common, accounting for about 90% of all AMD cases. In many cases, it will not cause complete vision loss, but still should be monitored regularly, as it can progress to geographic atrophy. This serious condition involves areas of the retina dying, leading to central vision issues. Early diagnosis of dry AMD is crucial, as it can detect geographic atrophy.
Dry AMD Symptoms
In the earlier stages of dry AMD, you may not notice any changes to your vision, especially if only one eye is affected. When symptoms do appear, they impact your central vision, causing blurriness, distortions, or dark areas in your field of vision. In some cases, patients don’t know they have dry AMD until it’s discovered during a routine eye exam.
What Is Geographic Atrophy?
Geographic atrophy occurs during the later, more severe stages of dry AMD. You can develop this serious condition with or without wet AMD. It makes up 20% of all legal blindness attributed to AMD.
Geographic atrophy involves the dysfunction of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), which is a specialized tissue inside the eye that plays an important role in the metabolic support of photoreceptor cells. One of the hallmarks of dry AMD is the accumulation of drusen, which are small, yellow deposits. As dry AMD progresses, this cellular debris accumulates under the retina, causing the RPE cells to die and inhibiting the RPE’s functionality. Eventually, this leads to photoreceptor cell death.
The damage of geographic atrophy begins in small spots that grow into larger spots. As cell death increases, the more you lose your central vision. The most common signs of geographic atrophy include difficulty with central vision, trouble seeing in low-light conditions, colors appearing washed out or dull, and decreased visual acuity (i.e. sharpness and clarity of vision). You may also develop scotomas, which are blind spots in or near the central field of vision. If left unaddressed, you may develop permanent vision loss.
Dry AMD And Geographic Atrophy Risk Factors
Although the cause of geographic atrophy is not yet fully understood, several risk factors are known to increase the likelihood of developing it. The main risk factor for dry AMD and geographic atrophy is being over 50 years old. Certain characteristics, conditions, and lifestyle factors may increase dry AMD risks, including:
- A family history of AMD
- Underlying conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol
- Having light-colored irises
- A poor diet, with few fruits and vegetables
- Long-term sunlight exposure without protection
If any of these risk factors apply to you, be sure to talk to your retina specialists about your concerns.
Treatment of Dry AMD and Geographic Atrophy
For many years, limited treatment options were available for dry AMD. There is currently a special vitamin formulation, known as AREDS 2, that has been shown to decrease the risk of AMD progression. In addition, there are ongoing clinical trials going on across the globe that are exploring new treatments. There are several promising medications that may be available in the future.
Protect Your Vision Against Dry AMD and Geographic Atrophy
If you’ve been diagnosed with dry AMD, it’s crucial that you start monitoring your vision daily. Many patients with dry AMD use a tool known as an Amsler grid, which is a simple grid that can help you detect vision changes and visual distortions. By being vigilant about the state of your vision, keeping track of any changes, and reporting any new symptoms to your retina specialist as soon as possible, you have a good chance of preserving your vision.
Get advanced care for dry AMD and geographic atrophy in Minnesota by scheduling a consultation with Retina Consultants of Minnesota today.