We spoke with Dr. Timothy Nichols of Clinic for Vision in Albertville, AL to find out more about this eye health issue
What does the diagnosis of AMD mean exactly?
AMD stands for age related macular degeneration. This is an inherited condition that affects the macula, the part of our retina we use to see 20/20. It is a tiny area, smaller than the head of a pin, but it is the only part of our retina that sees with the fine detail we need for reading or driving.
I understand there are two types of AMD. What are the differences between dry or wet AMD?
Dry macular degeneration is caused by the small light receptors of the macula wasting away. The wet form occurs when there is bleeding in the back of the eye that damages the macula.
Please describe the typical progression for an individual with AMD?
Though we carry the genes that cause AMD all our lives, it usually will not begin to show up until people reach their 60’s or 70’s; although there may be signs in much younger people as well. With the dry form people may notice a loss of detail or distortion of the image that slowly progresses over years. The wet form may cause sudden and profound loss of central vision. At worse, either form of AMD may cause loss of central vision, but the peripheral vision is spared.
What treatment options and/or care are available for this condition?
The dry form is best prevented by proper nutrition and lifestyle changes. Most of the things you hear are bad for your heart also increase risk of macular degeneration: smoking, overweight, high fat diet and so on. We also recommend protection from damaging ultraviolet and blue light. We recommend vitamins based on DNA information that is known to decrease.
The wet form is more catastrophic to vision, so more aggressive treatment is called for. This usually involves medicine that is injected directly into the eye that will prevent the bleeding. Sometimes laser treatments are used as well.
What are the risks and side effects associated with these treatments? What if you don’t proceed with treatment?
The vitamins are safe and effective in the recommended dosage. There are a number of scientific studies with thousands of people that demonstrate the benefits.
The treatment of wet macular degeneration with injections has infection as its primary risk, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. Failure to treat the condition can have very unhappy consequences. We all want to read, drive, watch TV, and enjoy the benefits as we get older. Loss of vision is heartbreaking.
Regardless of cost or coverage by my insurance, what are some alternative treatments?
Quitting smoking saves money. A healthy diet and lifestyle does not cost any extra. That’s a no brainer. The vitamins will cost less than a dollar a day in most cases.
Will a change in a patient’s glasses prescription help at all?
A current prescription is important, but many people are under the impression that if their glasses were stronger they would see better. This is sadly not always the case. Think of a camera: if the film in the camera is bad, you do not get a clear picture no matter how well the lens is focused.
What can a person do to protect or prolong their vision?
Wear sunglasses, eat right, exercise, maintain a healthy weight, and have regular yearly eye examinations.
Can you recommend a vitamin/mineral program for me that might be helpful or are vitamin supplements specific to each patient?
In general, a good multivitamin mineral supplement is a good idea. For patients with signs of macular degeneration we will make specific recommendations based on information we gather about their specific genetic makeup.