If you have AMD, you should inform your family, educate yourself, monitor for progression, make lifestyle modifications, and understand available treatments for AMD – early detection and intervention are crucial.
When my father was told that he had age-related macular degeneration, AMD, several years ago, it was a shock, and he felt stressed and uncertain about what it meant. Compounding his anxiety was the knowledge that some of our relatives and his friends had experienced vision loss due to AMD.
After learning about the condition, we discovered there were steps one could take to manage the condition and preserve vision. With proper care and management, my father was able to maintain much of his lifestyle and continue doing the things that matter most to him.
It’s been many years since, and science has made significant advancements. In this article, we will explore what you should know and what to do if you are diagnosed with macular degeneration from a 2023 perspective.
Inform your family if you have AMD
If you have AMD, it is advised to share the news with your first-degree relatives. This is because siblings and children of someone with AMD are 3 to 6 times more likely to develop the condition. By alerting them, your family members can take measures to monitor their eye health and detect any potential issues early on.
Regular eye exams are crucial for detecting early signs of macular degeneration since one may not have obvious visual symptoms until it has advanced. Encouraging family members to get regular eye exams, including checking the back of their eyes, is vital. There are ways to manage the condition early on before they become more serious.
Educate yourself and prevent AMD progression
At diagnosis, you should educate yourself about wet AMD. Understanding the condition is the first step towards managing AMD effectively and preserving your vision.
Although some people with AMD may maintain good vision throughout their lives, achieving this requires effort. By learning about the condition, you can determine what lifestyle changes to make, what treatments are available, and how to prevent the condition from worsening.
One key aspect of managing AMD is understanding the disease's natural progression. AMD has different stages, including early, intermediate, and late stages. In the late stage, there are two forms: wet AMD and geographic atrophy (also known as late dry AMD). Each of these stages has a different management strategy or treatment.
Being aware of the risk factors for AMD is also important. Age, family history, smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity can increase the likelihood of developing AMD. Although there is no cure for AMD, by recognizing these risk factors, you can take steps to reduce the modifiable risk factors and slow the disease's progression.
Monitoring AMD progression
Monitoring progression is a vital part of managing AMD effectively and maintaining good vision. One tool that can be used for this purpose is an Amsler grid, a simple square containing a grid pattern and a dot in the middle. By looking at the dot and the surrounding grid, you can detect any changes in your field of vision that may indicate AMD progression. Using the Amsler grid correctly daily can reveal problem spots in your field of vision.
If you notice any areas of the Amsler grid that appear darker, wavy, blank, or blurry, you should contact your eye doctor right away. Your doctor will check for any progression of AMD and may begin treatment as appropriate.
In recent years, another option for monitoring AMD progression has been a home monitoring device called ForeseeHome. This device can detect changes suggestive of progression, thus enabling early treatment. When patients are identified, it triggers a revisit call to their eye doctor's office for additional diagnostic testing and examination. As a final note, ForeseeHome is covered by Medicare for eligible patients.
Making specific lifestyle changes can significantly slow down the progression of macular degeneration and help maintain good vision. Consider implementing the following changes:
Quit smoking: If you smoke, quitting can significantly reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration. Ask your doctor about smoking cessation programs available in your area.
Manage cardiometabolic conditions: Conditions such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, or diabetes can increase your risk of macular degeneration. Follow your doctor's instructions for controlling these conditions.
Diet and food: Studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet and certain foods can reduce the chance of having macular degeneration. A diet rich in fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats has protective effects against AMD. Omega-3 fatty acids are good for eye health and are linked to a reduced risk of AMD. However, recent studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acid supplements may not have the same benefits.
Exercise and healthy weight: Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can help prevent the progression of macular degeneration. Exercise can help protect your vision as you age. Studies show that regular exercise can benefit your eyes and reduce the risk of all stages of AMD.
Take specific supplements: If you have intermediate AMD, taking the AREDS 2 supplement can help slow its progression to wet AMD. Make sure you consult with your doctor before taking any new supplements.
Understanding the different types of AMD and the available treatment options is essential for effective management. Late AMD is divided into two types: wet AMD and geographic atrophy. Wet AMD, the most common form, is caused by fluid leakage from abnormal, newly formed blood vessels in the eye, while geographic atrophy involves the gradual deterioration of retina cells in the back of the eye.
Thankfully, over the past decade, treatment options for wet AMD have significantly improved. When my father was first diagnosed with wet AMD, the available treatment options were Avastin and Lucentis. However, today, many more options are available, including Eylea, Beovu, and Vabysmo.
With much excitement is that an FDA-approved treatment called Syfovre has been shown to slow down the progression of geographic atrophy and decrease the rate of vision loss. Additionally, another treatment called Zimura is currently undergoing FDA review and is expected to complete its review by August 2023.
It is essential to note that all medications have potential side effects. Discuss with your doctor which treatment is appropriate for you. Additionally, make sure to keep your treatment appointments; not adhering to the treatments set by your doctor may lead to disease progression.
And ongoing research aims to discover more effective treatments and potential cures for AMD. One promising area of research is stem cell therapy, which has shown the potential to restore vision. While still in the experimental stage, their ability to transform the field of AMD treatment is enormous.
When first diagnosed, you should inform your first-degree relatives, educate yourself about the condition, monitor for progression, make lifestyle modifications, and discuss with your doctor your management options.
The good news is that there have been significant advancements in the field. With monitoring devices and new treatment options available, we have improved armaments to prevent or stop macular degeneration from progressing. Ongoing research in stem cell therapy also offers a promising future and hope.
With proper care and management, you may preserve your vision and continue doing things that matter.
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