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Q. Should I be worried about my family history of macular degeneration?

It’s certainly something to think about. Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss — affecting millions of Americans. You are at higher risk if you have an immediate family member with this eye disease.

Macular degeneration is painless — and it can develop slowly as we age. So you may not notice it right away. That’s why regular eye exams are so important. The good news is that early detection and treatment can be sight savers.

What is it exactly?

Macular degeneration affects the center part of the retina — the area called the macula. When it’s damaged, our ability to see objects clearly in our central vision is affected. It doesn’t cause complete blindness — you keep your peripheral vision. But, it can make some daily tasks difficult, such as reading or driving.

There are two types of age-related macular degeneration (AMD):

Dry AMD. This accounts for about 90 percent of all cases. It occurs when cells in the macula slowly break down. The most common symptom of dry AMD is slightly blurred vision.

Dry AMD usually progresses gradually. There are three stages: early, intermediate and advance — which may occur in one or both eyes. In most cases, only advanced AMD causes vision loss.

Wet AMD. With this type, abnormal blood vessels grow under the macula. They can leak blood and fluid — which pushes the macula out of place. Damage occurs quickly and can cause sudden vision changes. For example, straight lines may begin to appear bent or crooked. It’s considered advanced AMD.

What to do next

Safeguard your vision. Adults need a dilated or retinal comprehensive eye exam every 1 to 2 years. You might need them more often if you have risk factors like diabetes. These regular visits can help ensure that you’re seeing your best — and may detect eye diseases before they lead to vision loss.

A great first step: Check your benefit plan to see what services and providers may be covered.

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*Source: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

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