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What retina specialists want you to know about AMD to save sight

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(BPT) - You may know that age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can lead to vision loss and that the condition is often diagnosed in older people, but did you know there are two types of AMD? And, have you heard that new advances targeting wet AMD may reduce the number of eye injections needed to stave off vision loss, and there is finally a treatment for the late stage of dry AMD that may slow its progression? During AMD Awareness Month, the American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS) is sharing critical knowledge on AMD to help safeguard sight.

AMD, a disease that affects the small central area of the retina known as the macula, is the leading cause of vision loss in older Americans. Eleven million people in the United States have some form of AMD. With advances in early diagnosis and breakthrough treatments made possible by retina specialists, people diagnosed with AMD early in the course of the disease can preserve and improve their vision — miraculous progress for a disease that once caused certain blindness.

“AMD affects millions of Americans and many millions more are at risk, but with knowledge of the signs and symptoms of AMD and the latest information about new treatments, knowing where to turn for expert retina care, and acting on that knowledge with adherence to therapy can help people save their sight,” ASRS Foundation President Judy E. Kim, MD, FASRS, said. “Patients often tell me they are sure they will lose their vision because they have a family member who experienced vision loss from AMD, but with early diagnosis and treatment, we now have much more than hope to offer patients with wet or dry AMD.”

The American Society of Retina Specialists wants the public to know the following key facts to guard against vision loss from AMD:

Know your type: Wet or dry AMD

The first thing to know about AMD is that there are two types: dry AMD which affects 85% of those with the condition; and wet AMD which affects 15% of people with AMD.

Most patients have early or intermediate dry AMD which can remain stable for a lifetime or can slowly degrade vision. Early stages of dry AMD may not show any symptoms. In intermediate dry-AMD stages, patients may have difficulty reading in dim light or transitioning from light to dark; they may also notice a decrease in the intensity or brightness of colors and some early distortion (warping) of straight lines.

The advanced stage of dry AMD is known as Geographic Atrophy (GA). With GA, individuals experience more marked distortion of straight lines, difficulty reading and driving at night, gradual loss of central vision, or dark, blurry areas in the center of vision.

Around 10% of patients with intermediate dry AMD will develop wet AMD, an advanced form of AMD in which abnormal, leaking blood vessels develop beneath the macula and can cause rapid and severe vision loss in one or both eyes. With wet AMD, there is a sudden or gradual decrease in visual acuity, blind spots in the center of vision, and distortion of straight lines.

Seeking out a retina specialist ensures expert care

Retina specialists are highly skilled physicians and surgeons committed to helping people with retinal conditions like AMD preserve and improve their vision so they can see for a lifetime.

These medical doctors have completed up to 10 years of advanced medical training to specialize in ophthalmology and sub-specialize in diseases and surgery of the retina. Retina specialists' extensive education and training make them the most qualified experts to diagnose AMD and develop a personalized treatment plan for patients with the condition. If you experience symptoms of AMD such as blurred central vision or wavy lines, see a retina specialist as soon as possible. Find a retina specialist near you by visiting www.FindYourRetinaSpecialist.org.

Advances continue for both wet and dry AMD

Wet-AMD treatment has been revolutionized by the discovery of a family of compounds in the body known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF regulates the growth of abnormal new blood vessels in the eye — known as neovascularization — that can lead to wet AMD. The condition cannot be cured, but its progression may be stopped with anti-VEGF eye injections. Anti-VEGF therapy may continue for many years. If you have wet or dry AMD, consult a retina specialist.

Since anti-VEGF drugs were discovered, retina specialists have continued to study them, and have made advances to improve patient outcomes and quality of life. For example, anti-VEGF drugs can often preserve vision for wet-AMD patients, but receiving monthly eye injections can be burdensome. Newer, FDA-approved formulations of anti-VEGF medication are now available that may extend the time between treatments while preserving vision, meaning patients have fewer office visits and receive fewer injections per year while maintaining improvements in vision.

New advances have also been made benefitting people with GA, the late stage of dry AMD. No current treatment can prevent vision loss for patients with GA, but two drugs recently approved by the FDA can help to slow GA progression. Both drugs are eye injections that patients receive every one to two months.

Patients with intermediate dry AMD may also want to consider taking an AREDS-2 nutritional supplement, which are widely available over the counter. The Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS), conducted by the National Eye Institute, found that an AREDS-2 nutritional supplement formula may delay or prevent intermediate dry AMD from moving to the advanced form.

Ongoing clinical trials designed to test the safety and efficacy of new approaches to preventing, detecting, and treating retinal diseases including AMD are underway across the country. Trials also look for new ways to use existing treatments, new drugs, surgical procedures, and devices. Learn more about clinical trials and find potential clinical trials for AMD and other retinal conditions at www.asrs.org/patients/clinical-trials.

Knowing the risk factors helps guard against AMD

The primary risk factor for AMD is age — the older you are, the greater your risk. Genetics also has a powerful influence — people with a family history of AMD are at higher risk.

Other factors known to increase your risk for AMD:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Excessive sun exposure
  • A diet deficient in fruits and vegetables

Be proactive about AMD to preserve vision

Retina specialists encourage everyone, and especially those at higher risk of AMD, to take steps to maintain healthy retinas, including:

  • Get regular dilated retina exams, which can identify early signs of retinal disease
  • Look for visual symptoms by checking one eye at a time with the other eye covered
  • Don’t smoke; take steps to quit if you currently smoke
  • Stay active and maintain a healthy weight
  • Control blood pressure and blood sugar
  • Eat nutritious food including dark, leafy greens and fish
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure

For more information about AMD, download one of ASRS’s fact sheets on AMD, Wet Forms of AMD, or Dry Forms of AMD and ASRS’s AMD infographic.

Also, download the Talk with Your Doctor about AMD patient guide developed jointly by ASRS and the National Eye Institute which can help people who are newly diagnosed ask important questions about the condition. Access it at www.SeeforaLifetime.org/Resources. Additional resources on retinal disease are available at www.SeeforaLifetime.org.

The American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS) is the largest organization of retina specialists in the world, representing more than 3,000 physicians in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and 63 countries. Retina specialists are board-certified ophthalmologists who have completed fellowship training in the medical and surgical treatment of retinal diseases. The mission of the ASRS is to provide a collegial and open forum for education, to advance the understanding and treatment of vitreoretinal diseases, and to enhance the ability of its members to provide the highest quality of patient care. Learn more at ASRS.org. Like ASRS on Facebook, subscribe to their YouTube channel, and follow them on Twitter for the latest retina health information.