The National Eye Institute projects by the year 2050, 5.4 million people in the United States will suffer from Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), more than double the number in 2010.

What is AMD?

Diagram showing 2.1 million people affected by AMD in 2010 and 5.4 million in 2050

Each eye represents a total of 80 million people, the estimated number of Americans who will be 65 and older in 2050, the population most affected by eye disease.

AMD is a common eye disease affecting people over the age of 60. It damages the macula, a small spot near the center of the retina that focuses images and translates them to the brain. In some people, AMD advances so slowly that vision loss does not occur for a long time. In others, the disease progresses faster. When the macula is damaged, the center of your field of view may appear blurry, distorted, or dark. AMD by itself does not lead to complete blindness, with no ability to see. However, the loss of central vision in AMD can interfere with simple everyday activities, such as the ability to see faces, drive, read, write, or do close work, such as cooking or fixing things around the house.

Who is at risk?

Age is a major risk factor for AMD. The disease is most likely to occur after age 60, but it can occur earlier. Other risk factors for AMD include:

  • Smoking: Research shows that smoking doubles the risk of AMD
  • Race: AMD is more common among Caucasians than among African-Americans or Hispanics/Latinos
  • Family history and genetics: People with a family history of AMD are at higher risk. At last count, researchers had identified nearly 20 genes that can affect the risk of developing AMD. Many more genetic risk factors are suspected.

Researchers have found links between AMD and some lifestyle choices, such as smoking. You might be able to reduce your risk of AMD or slow its progression by making these healthy choices:

  • Avoiding smoking
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Eating a healthy diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and fish

The early and intermediate stages of AMD usually start without symptoms. Only a comprehensive dilated eye exam can detect AMD.

What are the stages of AMD?

Early AMD

People with early AMD typically do not have vision loss.

Intermediate AMD

Intermediate AMD may cause some vision loss, but most people will not experience any symptoms.

Late AMD

There are two types of late AMD:

  • Dry AMD: There is a gradual breakdown of the light-sensitive cells in the macula that convey visual information to the brain, and of the supporting tissue beneath the macula. These changes cause vision loss.
  • Wet AMD: Abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the retina. These vessels can leak fluid and blood, which may lead to swelling and damage of the macula. The damage may be rapid and severe.

AMD has few symptoms in the early stages, so it is important to have your eyes examined regularly. If you are at risk for AMD because of age, family history, lifestyle, or some combination of these factors, you should not wait to experience changes in vision before getting checked for AMD.

Source: National Eye Institute