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IN THE NEWS: Dr. Peter Liggett Featured in The Island Packet

What You Need to Know About Macular Degeneration

Blindness, as a National Institute of Health study has shown, is one of the biggest fears of older Americans. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common reason for visual loss for patients over the age of 65 in the United States. AMD is more common than all forms of cancer put together. It occurs in 30 % of people over the age of 80.

The retina is the light sensitive tissue covering the back of the eye. The macula is the center of the retina and is about the size of the head of an eraser on a pencil. This small area is responsible for our finest vision needed to read, write and drive a car. People with AMD may develop blurred and distorted vision and may not recognize faces due to developing a blind spot in the middle of their vision, which progresses over time. In the early stages of the disease, there are often no warning signs.

There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. Everyone who develops AMD starts with the dry type, which may be gradually progressive and not necessarily lead to significant visual loss. About 10 % of these patients will develop the wet type of AMD, which usually leads to substantial visual loss and blindness. One of the most important things you can do is to stop smoking. Smoking may cause up to 30 % of cases of AMD and markedly increases the risk of visual loss by 5 times or more. High cholesterol levels and hypertension with diastolic blood pressure more than 95 can more than double your risk of developing the wet type of AMD. There are many lifestyle strategies that you can adopt to make a difference in whether you develop AMD or, if you have AMD, to decrease your chances of visual loss. Lifestyle habits that are good for your heart are also good for your eyes. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has natural antioxidants which will protect the eye and prevent damage from AMD. Exercise of 20 minutes or more three times a week has been shown to decrease visual loss from AMD by 25 %. You can reduce your risk of visual loss from AMD three-fold by a healthy lifestyle combination of healthy diet, physical activity and not smoking. There are many new treatments for wet AMD that can help preserve your vision. Such treatments include drugs injected into the eye, photodynamic therapy, and laser treatment. A combination of treatments is sometimes needed to preserve your vision. An eye exam from your eye care professional can help you learn if you are at risk of this blinding condition.

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