(BPT) - When Joan Nick, an 87-year-old retiree, was diagnosed with the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in her left eye, she was worried about going blind.
Joan had already lost sight in her right eye in her 60s due to glaucoma, so the vision in her left eye was all she had - and she didn't want to lose it.
As there are no treatments for dry AMD other than supplements that slow progression in some patients, Joan's AMD was monitored through regular eye exams to detect changes. Then, one day during an exam, Joan's ophthalmologist asked her to read an eye chart; and to her surprise, she couldn't read it at all. Her condition had progressed to the more severe, wet form of AMD.
Joan is one of an estimated 11 million Americans who have some form of AMD, a disorder that erodes the central vision, making it difficult to read, drive or recognize faces. This vision loss can occur slowly, but in some cases like Joan's it is sudden.
While AMD is the leading cause of legal blindness among seniors in the United States, recent advances in treatment has made the disease more manageable than ever - great news for people like Joan.
Treatments are better than ever
Joan's condition, wet AMD, is the form that reduces vision quickly and is responsible for 90 percent of all legal blindness related to AMD. Ten years ago, wet AMD was considered largely untreatable and many patients experienced severe, irreversible vision loss. But with the introduction of new treatment options, such as anti-VEGF (anti-vascular endothelial growth factor) drugs, which are injected into the eye, more patients with the condition are maintaining their eyesight and avoiding permanent vision loss.
Joan is one of them. With regular treatment, she is now able to read and cook and do the things she enjoys. She even shares her positive experience with other people who are considering treatment for their AMD.
"The question they always ask me is, 'Will it hurt?' and I tell them, 'No, it will not,'" Joan says. "It certainly isn't as much trouble as it is to be blind - and I know that from my own experience!"
Schedule an eye exam today
Risk factors for AMD include increasing age, race and family history. In its earliest stages, AMD may not have any symptoms. Eye exams are critical to diagnosing AMD in its early stages and monitoring its progression. Oral nutritional supplements may be advised for some people with the dry form of the disease. If it advances to wet AMD, eye exams enable patients to know when to start treatment before their vision permanently deteriorates.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a baseline eye exam by age 40 and that older Americans get an eye exam every one to two years. Seniors who have not had a recent eye exam or for whom cost is a concern may qualify for EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology that offers eye exams and care at no out-of-pocket cost for eligible seniors age 65 and older. Visit www.eyecareamerica.org to see if you are eligible.
'Some people put off getting an eye exam because they fear being diagnosed with an eye disease," says Dr. Charles P. Wilkinson, chair of EyeCare America. 'But early diagnosis can be the first step toward saving your vision. Getting an eye exam can either confirm that your eyes are healthy or help you keep your vision.'