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Loss of eyesight common for Kentuckians

Age-related macular degeneration affects many older adults

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in the United States affects more aging individuals than all cancers combined and is a primary culprit for irreversible blindness. Most people find out they have the disease when having a routine eye exam, but patients may not experience any noticeable visual decline for years or even decades. Unfortunately, physicians have limited options to treat the disease when it finally does begin robbing patients of their vision.

For a person to see, the transparent cornea and lens in the front of the eye have to focus images onto the light-sensitive retina in the back of the eye. Cone photoreceptors, the light-sensitive cells of the retina responsible for fine-tuned color vision, reside in the central region of the retina known as the macula. Underneath the retina is a layer of cells known as the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), responsible for keeping the overlying retina healthy. In AMD, the RPE cells keeping the macula healthy begin to die, ultimately leading to central vision loss.

Forms of macular degeneration

Patients can have either the wet or dry forms of the disease. Most patients have the dry form of the disease, but wet AMD is responsible for most of the vision loss in patients. During wet AMD, fragile blood vessels grow into the retina by pushing their way through the RPE, and the rupture of these fragile blood vessels damages vision. Patients with dry AMD may still lose vision, but not as rapidly or as severely as those with wet AMD. For patients with wet AMD, there are a few treatments doctors can perform to prevent blood vessel growth and preserve vision for a time. Unfortunately, no effective treatments are approved for the treatment of dry AMD.

Fortunately, people can do a few things to help prevent the disease as they get older. AMD is common in Kentucky because smoking and obesity rates are high, and those are two of the biggest controllable risk factors for developing the disease. By stopping—or not starting—smoking and by maintaining a healthy weight, you can do your part to help decrease your risk of AMD.

REDUCE STROKE RISK

  • Follow a healthy diet such as the DASH or Mediterranean diet.
  • Get regular exercise such as walking at a brisk but comfortable pace for 20-30 minutes most days of the week.
  • No more than one alcoholic drink per day (no alcohol during pregnancy).
  • Don’t smoke and avoid exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly.

Dr. Jayakrishna Ambati from the 2016 April issue

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