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Who Gets Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

by Cindy Gray

Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is a condition of the eye that affects the clear, central vision required for activities like reading and driving.  AMD with associated vision loss currently affects roughly 1.75 million Americans, most over the age of 60.  Knowing who is at risk for age-related macular degeneration helps people determine whether or not they should make an appointment with a professional for an eye exam. 

Age-related macular degeneration is most likely to develop in people 60 years of age or older.

Risk Factors for Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Here are common risk factors that increase a person’s chances for developing AMD:

Age – As mentioned, the disease occurs more often in people over the age of 60.

Genetics – People with a family history of AMD have greater risks for developing it.  Scientists have identified nearly 20 different genes that may play a part, with possibly more to come.  Because of the wide variety of genetic influences and risk factors, there are no genetic tests that can accurately predict the development of AMD.

Race – Research shows AMD is more common among Caucasian Americans than those of African-American or Hispanic descent. 

Smoking – Research also shows that smoking raises a person's chances for developing age-related macular degeneration.  A British study found that smokers were twice as likely to develop the disease as non-smokers.  The researchers also discovered long-lasting effects of smoking, with data showing higher risks for the development of AMD for as long as 20 years after quitting.

While the American Academy of Ophthalmology currently recommends against routine genetic testing for AMD, people who have one or more risk factors may want to consult with an ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye exam which often includes the following:

  • Dilation – drops placed in the eyes widen pupils for a better view of the back of the eye, retina, and optic nerve
  • Amsler Grid – an eye test used by eye care professionals to determine if there are changes in central vision
  • Visual Acuity Test – measures the ability to see at a distance
  • Fluorescein Angiogram – injection of fluorescent dye into the arm allows eye care professionals to detect leaking blood vessels as dye passes through the eye
  • Optical Coherence Tomography – light waves produce high-resolution images of eye tissue

Related:  Eyesight Improvement:  Reduce Risk of Macular Degeneration

Diagnosis of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

To diagnose age-related macular degeneration, ophthalmologists look for drusen, which are yellow deposits that lie underneath the retina.  The presence of very small drusen are common with aging, however, larger deposits may indicate the development of AMD.  Eye doctors also look for changes in pigment found underneath the retina as opposed to in the iris (or the colored part of the eye).

Because AMD can cause vision loss and blindness, it is important to have a better understanding of the disease, especially for people who are approaching 60 years of age.  Knowing the risks for AMD helps ensure earlier diagnosis, better treatment, and the best eye health possible.  

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