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What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)?

Updated on November 26, 2016
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Jo has been an ITU nurse at the London North West NHS Trust for 14 years. She obtained her RN at University College London Hospital.

Normal Vision
Normal Vision | Source
AMD Vision
AMD Vision

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Age-related Macular Degeneration or (AMD) is a medical condition that usually affects older adults; it is the leading cause of vision loss in people aged 50 and older. While AMD may not cause complete blindness, it affects the part of the retina that enables clear, detailed vision, damage to this section of the eye results in a loss of central vision. The two main types of AMD are dry and wet forms.

Central Vision Loss

AMD affects the macula; this is a small part of the retina at the back of the eye, although painless, AMD is a serious condition that leads to gradual loss of central vision. We use central vision to see what is directly in front of us during activities such as reading and watching TV. As macular cells deteriorate, the ability to see clear changes. The central vision becomes increasingly blurred, the peripheral or outer vision is not affected. Symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty reading printed or written word, the text becomes blurred. Central vision remains fuzzy or develops gaps, even when glasses are worn.

  • Lose the of ability to detect small distances when driving.

  • Colours may fade, becoming less vibrant.
  • Bright lights can be glaring and uncomfortable.
  • Dark spots like a smudge on glasses may appear in the center of vision
  • Recognising faces become difficult.

  • Straight lines appear wavy or crooked, i.e., lines on a piece of graft paper, the lines between tiles in a bathroom or any straight object.

  • A blind spot develops in the middle of the visual field; this becomes larger in time as the macula cells continue to deteriorate.

    Objects in the central vision may change size, shape, colour or seem to move or disappear.

  • Visual hallucinations are common in people with severe visual loss. Also known as Charles Bonnet syndrome. Although frightening, this is a typical response to sight loss in some people, and not related to any form of mental disorder.

  • Symptoms in dry AMD can take 5-10 years before becoming severe, however; in wet AMD severe visual loss can develop much quicker.

Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50, accounting for almost 50% of individuals who are registered as blind or partially sighted. When the condition is present in one eye, there is a 60% chance that it will also develop in the other eye.

According to the Eye Disease Prevalence Research Group, approximately 1.8 million Americans age 40 and over, have advanced AMD with vision loss, over 7 million have a high risk of developing vision loss from AMD; advanced AMD is predicted to affect almost 3 million Americans by 2020.

AMD is the most common cause of severe visual impairment in the UK and the developing world. This condition does not lead to complete blindness, but the visual loss can occur within months or over many years, according to the type and severity of the condition.

Of the two types of AMD; wet AMD is the most severe, but it is also more treatable. The visual loss caused by this disease cannot be reversed. However; new drugs are emerging that may help to stop or delay the progression.

Dry Age-related Macular Degeneration

Dry AMD is the most common form of AMD in its early or intermediate stages. It occurs in 85% to 90% of people with the condition and can progress into the more threatening 'wet AMD' causing severe visual impairment.

With age, the layer of tissue that covers the retina can start to break down, becoming thinner to the point where the retina can no longer exchange nutrients and waste products as well as it once did. Waste products begin to build up in the retina to form small deposits known as drusens.

The build-up of drusens in addition to the lack of nutrients, causes the light cells in the macula to become damaged to an extent where it loses the ability to work efficiently. As dry AMD progresses, a blurred spot in the central vision known as geographic atrophy is seen. Central vision in the affected eye is lost slowly as less of the macula works.

Wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Wet AMD, also known as neovascular or exudative AMD, is characterized by the formation of tiny abnormal blood vessels that grows under the macula. The development of new blood vessels is thought to be an attempt by the body to remove waste product from the retina. Unfortunately; these vessels can cause more problems than they solve. The misplaced vessels can leak blood and fluid into the eye causing scarring and damage to the macula, giving rise to the most severe symptoms of wet AMD, occurring in around 1 in 10 cases.

Causes and Risk factors of AMD

It is not clear what causes the macula to become damaged, but some known risk factors include:

Age, the older we get, the higher the danger of developing some degree of AMD. In most cases, the condition starts to develop around the age of 55 then rises sharply. In people age 85 and over it is estimated that 1 in 8 has the condition.

Smoking tobacco is a significant risk for AMD; smokers are 2-3 times more likely to develop the condition when compared to non-smokers.

Family history, AMD is known to be familial; the genes we inherit from our parents may increase the risk of developing the condition. If a sibling has AMD, the risk of developing the condition is said to increased five-fold.

Ethnicity, Studies show a higher incidence of AMD in white and Chinese people but lower in individuals of African origins.

Some possible risk factors

Alcohol, drinking more than four units of alcohol a day over many years may increase the risk of early AMD.

Sunlight, exposure to excessive sunlight over a lifetime, may increase the risk of getting AMD, this is yet to be proven, but studies suggest that UVA and UVB rays can damage the retina.

Obesity, some studies show that being obese, having a body mass index or BMI of 30 or more can double the chance of developing AMD.

Diet, studies have supported the possibility that an increased intake of antioxidants, specifically carotenoids, can reduce the risk of advanced AMD. Individuals who consume the highest levels of carotenoids had a statistically significant 43% lower risk of AMD compared to those who consumed the lowest levels. (JAMA. 1994).

The beneficial effects of antioxidants were strongest for the intake of spinach or collard greens among all the carotenoid-rich foods consumed. However, although there is evidence that vitamins A, C, E, and zinc may help to slow down the progression in people who already have the condition, the experts have yet to agree on the degree of risk diet presents.

High cholesterol level, research shows, high cholesterol levels can affect the immune system to cause AMD. Test on mice and human show that immune cells become destructive when clogged with fats. This types of studies are still in the early stages.

A US team of researchers based at the National Eye Institute (NIH), performed studies referred to as Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) to ascertain whether nutritional supplements can help slow down the development of AMD. The trial followed about 3,600 people diagnosed with AMD at different stages of severity, many with early AMD. The study concluded, those participants with early AMD who took a daily AREDS formula consisting of:

  • 500mg Vitamin C
  • 400 I.U of Vitamin E
  • 15mg of beta-carotene
  • 80mg zinc and zinc oxide
  • 2mg of copper as cupric oxide (high levels of zinc can reduce the amount of copper in the body) were 25-30 percent less likely to develop advanced AMD over a five-year period. There was a 19 percent reduction in the risk of developing central vision loss. A second study shows that when lutein and zeaxanthin replaced beta-carotene in the original formula, the risk of developing advanced AMD is decreased by a further 10 percent.

For individuals on the trial with inadequate dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin, the risk increased to 20 percent. AREDS also looked at adding omega 3 fatty acid to the formula, but this did not reduce the risk of developing advanced AMD.

High blood pressure, there is some limited evidence that people with a history of hight blood pressure and coronary heart disease, may have an increased risk of developing AMD, however, the results are said to be inconclusive.

AREDS Research Based Formula, Lutein and Zeaxanthin replaced Beta-Carotene to Reduce Risk of AMD by a Further 10%

Detecting and Treating AMD

AMD usually starts without symptoms in the early and intermediate stages. The condition is detection only with a comprehensive dilated eye examination which may include:

  • A visual acuity test, eye chart measuring vision at a distance.
  • Dilated eye exam, drops are placed in the eye which dilates the pupil to allow a better view of the back of the eye. The retina and optic nerve can then be examined for signs of AMD and other eye conditions with the use of a magnifying lens.
  • Amsler grid, changes in the central vision may cause the lines in the grid to disappear or appear wavy; this is a sign of AMD.
  • Fluorescein angiogram, for this test; a dye is injected into the vein and images are taken as the dye passes through the blood vessels in the eye to detect leaking blood vessels.
  • Telescopic lens implant, This is a surgical option for selected people with advanced AMD in both eyes. A telescopic lens which looks like a tiny plastic tube is equipped with lenses that magnify the field of vision is implanted into one eye to improve distance and close up vision.

Treatment for wet AMD

Anti-VEGF injection, VEGF, short for Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor, is a substance normally produced in the body for the development of healthy blood vessels. In wet AMD; an excessive amount of VEGF is produced in the eye, causing the growth of abnormal and unhealthy blood vessels. Anti- VEGF is injected into the eye to block and slow down the progression of wet AMD. Most people require around 6 to 8 injections a year.

Photodynamic therapy, this involves treatment with lasers to selected areas of the retina. Drugs are injected into a vein in the arm and carried through the body including any abnormal vessels. A laser beam is then shone into the eye to activate the drug within the vessels to destroy the new abnormal blood vessels, and thereby slow the rate of vision loss.

Laser Surgery, this treatment is less common but is sometimes used to treat wet AMD. It involves aiming an intense beam of light at the new blood vessels in the eyes to destroy them. Laser treatment can also damage some of the surrounding healthy tissue which can cause more blurred vision.

Diet for healthy eyes, It is known that by including a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables to our diet, we are getting valuable antioxidant vitamins that can contribute to maintaining healthy eyes. Kale, spinach, peas, broccoli, are high in antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin and may also benefit people who are suffering from AMD. Diet should include healthy fats and whole grains. Fish such as salmon, sardines, and tuna contain omega-3 fatty acids that may help to reduce the risk of vision loss in AMD.

Always discuss your condition with your doctor or health care provider. This article gives an overview of the disease and is not meant to replace medical advice. There are other treatment options available for AMD. Unfortunately, some can only be accessed through the private sector and are not yet available through the NHS.

Doctors and health care professionals are ideally placed to give Information about new and existing treatment for AMD.

Detecing AMD, Can you Spot the Problem?

A Normal Amsler grid
A Normal Amsler grid | Source

This is what an Amsler grid might look like to someone with AMD


Are you 50 years of age or over, if so, how often do you have your eyes checked for AMD?

See results

© 2013 Jo Alexis-Hagues


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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      What about a eye donor ?

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Rajan, you're right on the money!...we must make every effort to keep our eyes healthy, especially those of us of a certain age. Thank you for stopping by, always appreciated.

      Take care and have a wonderful weekend.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      6 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

      A very thorough hub on AMD. I think cutting down on the risk factors and a regular eye exam for AMD would go a long way in keeping our eye free from developing AMD soon.

      voted up and useful.

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Michelle, much appreciated... I hope all is well, take care and my best to you.

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Hi rajan, you are very sensible, I'll be doing the same from now.....thanks for stopping by, my best to you.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for we get older, these are conditions to watch out for! Detailed and comprehensive, as all your health hubs are, Jo. Sharing.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      6 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

      Very interesting and useful read, Jo. I do get my eyes checked every six months. Thanks for this. Up and shared.

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Thanks Audrey, very much appreciated.

      My best to you.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      Such an informative hub! Really well done!

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Kashmir, so nice to see you!.... Sorry about the cataracts, I do hope all is well. Thanks for the visit, comment and vote, as always much appreciated and my best to you.

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Kidscrafts, thank you for this very insightful comment, losing one's sight is unimaginable, but you said it beautifully. Thank you for the visit and wonderful comment, always appreciated.

      Take care and my best to you.

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      ChitrangadaSharan, very nice to see you...and you are so right, it is indeed a wake up call for many of us, However, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

      Thank you for stopping by, much appreciated and my best to you.

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      DeviKa, always a pleasure to see you...thanks for the visit, comment and share much appreciated.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi my friend great and very informative article on AMD. I just had cataracts surgery last year so i know how important it is to have your eyes checked often to make sure there are no problems with them. Well done !

      Vote up and more !!! Sharing !

    • kidscrafts profile image


      6 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Thank you for this great hub Jo! Eyes are so precious... we might realize it only when we start to lose it! I can't even think of a life without my eyes. What a precious gift it is to be able to see our loved ones. I don't know how I could create and paint without my eyes. I love to see the nature around me, the birds and butterflies flying. I love to see my cats do silly things. What a gift we have when we can see the colours of the flowers, the sky, the rainbow and the sea.

      My mother in law suffered AMD at the end of her life and it was getting harder and harder for her to read. We bought her books with extra large prints but at the end she couldn't read anymore. It's very sad.

      Thanks for talking about this subject.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      6 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Very useful information shared by you. In fact a wake up call for anyone, who might be postponing their eye check up.

      Well presented and informative! Thanks for sharing and Voted up!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A well informed hub about AMD you certainly know what you are talking about here and this should definitely be taken seriously to the individual concerned. I shared on facebook

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Thank you Frank, that is good to know....Always appreciated, my best to you.

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Hi Peg, lovely to see you, I'm so glad to know you've found this information useful. Sorry to hear about your aunt's failing vision, she sounds wonderful, 93 is a grand age. Thanks for such an insightful comment and for the visit, much appreciated. My best to you.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      6 years ago from Shelton

      you know tobusiness when you start a hub like this you make it easy for readers to follow and that's important when you need to convey bless you :)

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      This is an easy to read and thorough explanation of this degenerative disease. My Auntie began losing her sight not long after she had a cataract operation which had restored her vision to 20-20. It was only a couple of years later that the symptoms of Macular Degeneration began to show up. At this age, 93, she has lost nearly all her central vision.

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Beckie, way to go girl!!.... my eye check is already booked, fingers crossed.

      It's so good to have you back, thank you so much for checking this out always appreciated, my very best to you.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      6 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Jo - Excellent article. I must admit, I am terrible about my eye care, even though Mom just received eye surgery for cataracts (successful and hereditary). But after reading this article about age macular degeneration and knowing some lose their sight, I'll start paying as much attention to my eye care as I do my oral and physical care.

      Well-written and very informative Jo.

      Voting up and sharing.

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Billy, apologies for the typos, I didn't get a chance to check before posting, hope some of it made sense. I think an early night might be a good idea. :))

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Billy, I still a bit fragile from the dastardly flu virus but \i'm please to say it's finally retreating. It was a lovely day so took the dog out in the country side for walkies then attacked the garden, all in all, a fun day. It sounds like you're probably, I'm sure you have regular checks for glasses and they also check for AMD. Thank you my friend as always.

    • tobusiness profile imageAUTHOR

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Hi Faith, if this article have persuaded you to get your eyes checked, it is a job well done, as far as I'm concerned :). Good luck with the test, it will most probably be alright, but it's best to know.

      Thank you so much for stopping by, for the great comment and for the share.

      My best to you as always.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I have heard of this, Jo, but I do not experience it. I have had glasses since I was five years old, and my vision seems to have stabilized over the past couple decades. It certainly has not gotten worse and for that I am very grateful.

      Great information my friend. Thank you and I hope your Sunday has been peaceful.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      6 years ago from southern USA

      Wow, Jo!

      Very thorough and insightful hub here. I know I need to get my eyes checked, and after reading this, I am scheduling an appointment.

      It is obvious you have done your research on this one.

      Voted up +++ and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper


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