Age-Related Macular Degeneration, also known as ARMD, is the most common cause of irreversible vision loss for people over the age of 65, and has been known to afflict people in their 50s and even 40s. The cause is not fully understood, but two thing are certain: there is no cure for the disease, and once ARMD robs you of your sight, you cannot get it back.

“ARMD is a grave threat to our population, and even those patients who don’t fall into the age range should be aware of the disease and take preventative steps,” explains Dr. Vivienne Velasco of Las Vegas-based iFocus Vision Center.

The month of February is designated Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Low Vision Awareness Monthby American Academy of Ophthalmologists, and the organization urges early detection as the critical first step to saving a person’s eyesight.

Dr. Velasco says you don’t have to be an eye doctor to understand the impact of ARMD and how to manage the symptoms.

What Is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Age-Related Macular Degeneration occurs when a part of the retina known as the macula is damaged. This is often associated with the aging process.

There are two types of ARMD: Atrophic, also known as “Dry” ARMD; and Exudative, or “Wet” ARMD.

The majority, 90 percent of cases are of the Atrophic variety, and involve a thinning of the macular tissue and the development of small deposits on the retina called drusen. “Dry” ARMD develops slowly and usually causes mild visual loss. The main symptom is often a dimming of vision when reading.

Exudative ARMD is the result of abnormal growth of new blood vessels under the macula. These blood vessels can leak and eventually create a large blind spot in the central vision. “Wet” ARMD is a much greater threat to your vision.

What are the first indications of ARMD?

An early sign of ARMD is poor adaptation to the dark, Dr. Velasco says.

“When patients complain about having a hard time recovering longer than normal going from a bright environment to a dark environment, this can be an early sign that there are changes in the macula,” she says. “Macular degeneration will also start affecting a patient’s central vision, so letters may be distorted, or straight objects may have a missing spot or abnormal shape.”

Common symptoms of ARMD include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Reduced color vision
  • Extra sensitivity to glare
  • Difficulty seeing in low light

How Is ARMD Detected?

The first way to detect ARMD is through a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Dr. Velasco also uses the iWellness scan to detect the disease, as it allows her to see the layers underneath the macula.

“Another method of detection is the Amsler Grid, a simple grid made with small squares and a dot in the middle,” she explains. “Testing one eye at a time using near correction, some patients with ARMD will see the grid as distorted or missing in some areas.”

How Is ARMD Treated?

There is no cure for ARMD, but doctors are always devising new treatments. Dr. Velasco advises patients with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes to manage those conditions with ARMD in mind, as each one can affect the health of the macula.

Other treatment options include laser therapy to destroy excess blood vessels in patients with Exudative ARMD. Vitamins and a healthy diet that’s high in anti-oxidants such as green, leafy vegetables and colorful fruit, as well as Omega-3s, has proven helpful for patients with Atrophic ARMD.

What Can I Do to Lower My Risk of ARMD?

No matter your age, you can take preventative measures to protect your vision. Dr. Velasco’s checklist for reducing your risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration includes:

  • Healthy diet
  • Sunglasses and UV protection
  • Exercise
  • Annual comprehensive eye exam
  • Annual wellness check with primary care physician
  • STOP SMOKING! (or never start!)

iFocus Vision Center remains open with strict guidelines in place to protect patients and staff members. Patients with an urgent need are seen by appointment only, and iFocus offers curbside pickup for eyeglasses or contact lens refills. To schedule an appointment, contact us at 702-473-5660.