Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Cataracts

By Dr. Parley Fillmore, M.D., PH.D.

Did you know that age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in the United States? This serious condition often goes undiagnosed until severe vision loss has taken place. Unfortunately, it is often difficult or impossible, to regain that lost vision. 

Currently, 14 million people are affected by AMD in the U.S., and that number is expected to double by 2050. Nearly 80% of people with AMD have substantial, irreversible vision loss at the time of diagnosis. Even if AMD does not run in your family, the risk is present and increases with age. Approximately 25% of individuals in their 70’s have AMD, this increases to about a third of people in their 80’s and about half of everyone older than 90 has some degree of macular degeneration (AMD).

The good news is that there is something you can do to decrease the risk of vision loss from AMD. It starts with a thorough eye exam with dilation by an expert trained in the diagnosis and treatment of AMD. At the time of your exam, your doctor can let you know if you have the early signs of AMD and guide you in minimizing your risk of vision loss. Often taking certain vitamin supplements can be beneficial to help prevent further damage from AMD. If you already have significant vision loss from AMD, there are now treatments available that can actually help some people regain lost vision. These treatments work best when the disease process is caught early. This is truly a miracle that was not available just a few years ago.

Cataracts are another common problem that can be treated with a very high success rate. Just about everyone will have to deal with cataracts eventually (if you have enough birthdays). If you are having more difficulty with small print, have trouble with glare from headlights while driving at night, or just need more light to see details, you may be developing cataracts. Unfortunately, cataracts (and their symptoms) only get worse with time, until they are treated. Avoiding UV light may help to slow the development of cataracts, but generally the treatment of cataracts is with an outpatient surgery which is very successful. There are now new lens implants available that can be placed at the time of surgery which can decrease the need for glasses after cataract surgery. I have many patients who rarely, or never, use glasses after cataract surgery. The quality of life improvement with cataract removal is truly remarkable, as many patients will attest. 

Our eyes are often taken for granted, until we start having trouble seeing. There are many eye diseases, like AMD, cataracts, diabetic eye disease and glaucoma, where early intervention can make a big difference. We recommend that everyone has an eye exam by age 65, even if they don’t have vision loss. Fortunately, recent advances in medicine allow us to prevent, and often reverse many causes of vision loss. Additionally, there are things one can do as well to help protect the precious gift of sight. This includes UV protection, eating a balanced diet and watching other risk factors including blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose control.

Summer 2017

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