Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss for adults over 60, affecting as many as 15 million Americans. Its victims live with a large blurry or blind spot at the center of their field of vision, making basic everyday activities—reading, driving, navigating stairs—agonizingly difficult.

“AMD leaves black holes at the center of your vision and steals your ability to see fine detail and colors. However, early detection and treatment can help prevent vision loss,” BCH retina specialist Dr. Geeta Lalwani told a crowd of nearly 200 people during a free health lecture held on April 13 in Boulder.

“The beginning stage of AMD often has no symptoms, which is why regular exams are so important. A comprehensive dilated eye exam is the only way to detect AMD,” she added.

Types of AMD and Treatments

According to Dr. Lalwani, there are two types of AMD: dry (atrophic) and wet (neovascular).

“Most AMD starts as the dry type and in 10 to 20 percent of sufferers, it progresses to the wet type. In other words, when you have wet AMD, you also have dry AMD,” she explained.

With the wet type, leaky blood vessels grow under the retina and vision loss can be rapid. “If wet macular degeneration is detected, medications can be injected into the eye to slow the leakage and improve vision,” Dr. Lalwani said.

Dry AMD destroys tissue in the center of the retina. Although currently there is no cure for dry AMD, and any loss of vision cannot be restored, in the coming years there will likely be treatments for this type of AMD.

Ways to Lower Your Risk

Dr. Lalwani said there are things you can do to lower your risk of getting the disease and possibly slow down its progression. Research shows that AMD occurs less often in people who avoid smoking, engage in regular exercise and eat nutritious foods.

“Adherence to a Mediterranean diet – which is a diet high in fruits and vegetables – has been associated with lower prevalence of early AMD. Dark green, leafy vegetables are particularly helpful,” she said. “Basically, what’s good for your heart is also good for your eyes.”

Moreover, people who eat fish three times a week have a lower incidence of AMD, and those who eat a lot of saturated fats have a higher risk.

Nutritional Supplements to Slow Vision Loss

Dr. Lalwani also explained that a special combination of vitamins and minerals can potentially slow down the disease’s progression.

She said that a large clinical trial conducted by the National Eye Institute (NEI) called AREDS, which stands for Age-Related Eye Disease Study, found that a special formula of nutritional supplements could slow the progression of macular degeneration. This formula was shown to reduce AMD patients' risk of progressing to the advanced form of AMD by about 25 percent over a five-year period.

“The AREDS formula included beta carotene, which was later found to be associated with higher lung cancer rates in smokers. In a follow-up study, called AREDS2, researchers examined the formula without beta carotene, replacing it with the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin and lowering the zinc content. The updated formula worked just as well and completely replaced the previous formula,” Dr. Lalwani said.

According to the NEI, the AREDS2 follow-up study found that taking the following formulation has a persistent benefit for reducing the risk of advanced AMD:

  • Lutein (10mg)
  • Zeaxanthin (2mg)
  • Vitamin C (500mg)
  • Vitamin E (400IU)
  • Zinc (80mg)
  • Copper (2mg)

If you wish to be screened or treated for AMD, schedule an appointment with Dr. Geeta Lalwani by calling (303) 900-8507.