Which Type of Macular Degeneration Do I Have?
Age-related macular degeneration comes in two flavors, dry and wet. While most folks think of dry macular degeneration as ‘the good kind’ and wet macular degeneration as ‘the bad kind,’ you can read below that this distinction is not entirely helpful.
Dry macular degeneration is the most common form of the disease, affecting 90% of patients with A.M.D. Dry macular degeneration is characterized by the presence of bumps underneath the retina, called drusen. These retinal changes show up early in the disease and typically take a long time to lead to vision loss. The size, number, and appearance of drusen can be prognostic for future vision loss. As the years pass by, the drusen typically become more numerous and destructive to the overlying retina. Eventually, the bumps may disappear leaving blind spots in their place.
Wet macular degeneration is less common than dry, affecting only 10% of patients. Wet macular degeneration is characterized by the growth of new blood vessels that leak and bleed under the retina. When left untreated, these changes lead to rapid retinal damage and vision loss.
Although wet macular degeneration can lead to rapid vision loss, it is entirely treatable. Patients who get timely treatment for wet macular degeneration can maintain their vision for years until their underlying dry macular degeneration takes over (yes, you can have wet and dry macular degeneration at the same time). Unfortunately, we do not have good treatments to stop vision loss from dry macular degeneration. It’s for these reasons that just as many patients lose vision from dry macular degeneration as they do wet.
What Causes Age-Related Macular Degeneration?
There is no ‘one’ cause for macular degeneration, just a list of risk factors that increase your risk for developing the condition. Besides age >60, the most common risk factors for age-related macular degeneration include family history and smoking. Other potential contributing factors include:
- Female gender
- Caucasian race
- High blood pressure
- Excessive sun exposure
- Poor nutrition
How is Macular Degeneration Diagnosed?
Regular eye examinations become more important as we get older, so that age-related vision changes, like A.M.D., can be detected and treated as early as possible. Macular degeneration can be diagnosed by an ophthalmologist during a dilated eye exam with the help of retinal imaging called an optical coherence tomograph (OCT).