Judi Dench has sight threatening macular degeneration

Oscar Winner Judi Dench recently told the Daily Mirror that she has age-related macular degeneration (AMD). She says her vision has gotten so bad from this disease that she can no longer read scripts or see the person across the table with whom she is having dinner. So what is AMD and what are some of the risk factors and treatments? And what better time to talk about this than during AMD Awareness Month?

Simulated vision with macular degeneration

Simulated view with macular degeneration

Macular degeneration is a progressive eye condition that can destroy your “straight-ahead” vision. It is the leading cause of blindness in the US with an estimated 10 million Americans who show evidence of the disease. The disease breaks down the macula – the light-sensitive portion of the retina that allows you to see fine detail. It blurs the straight-ahead vision required for activities such as reading or driving. There are two forms of AMD – dry and wet. The dry form, which is the most common, is believed to be caused by an age related thinning of the tissue as well as an accumulation of deposits within the retinal tissue.  In wet AMD, new blood vessel growth has occurred which then leaks blood and fluid into the retinal tissue resulting in blind spots.  Early symptoms may include blurred or decreased vision, distorted vision, or even blind spots.  These symptoms occur gradually and painlessly making early detection more difficult.

view of a retina with wet macular degeneration

Retinal photo of wet AMD. (Courtesy of Ruston Eye Institute)

So, how is AMD detected? The best way to detect it is with a comprehensive eye exam. As part of the exam, your eye doctor will evaluate your macula looking for any signs of the disease. If any signs are present, you may be put through further testing to determine the extent of the damage. While there is no cure, there are several treatments that can be used to limit the progression and damage and in some cases regain some of your lost vision. For dry AMD, the main treatment is with vitamin supplements. With wet, the most common treatment involves monthly or bi-monthly ocular injections.

Are there risk factors for AMD? Age is obviously the biggest risk factor (Judy Dench is 77). Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and a family history of the disease. Caucasians and females are also at an increased risk of developing AMD. Therefore, maintaining overall good health is a great way to minimize your risk of developing AMD. Other ways to help minimize your risk include protecting your eyes from UV rays, quitting smoking, and eating green leafy vegetables like spinach and collards.

If you have any of these risk factors or have any questions about AMD or its treatments, please schedule a consultation with Dr. Bodkin to discuss any concerns you may have.