What Does a Person with Geographic Atrophy See?
Geographic Atrophy is an advanced form of dry age-related macular degeneration where cells in regions of the retina waste away and die, slowly causing vision loss to decrease from an optimal, healthy 20/20 to a very poor 20/200. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in people aged 50 or older. Geographic atrophy can have a devastating impact on vision as 42% of people with geographic atrophy are legally blind. Over 5 million people are afflicted with geographic atrophy which means that in developed nations, approximately 1 in 29 people over the age of 75 has been diagnosed with geographic atrophy.
Although it begins slowly, geographic atrophy is a progressive and irreversible disease that leads to central scotomas. A person with geographic atrophy will see a central scotoma, a blind spot directly in their center of vision. The question really is not “what does a person with geographic atrophy see?” but rather what they cannot see. One of the first signs of geographic atrophy is that objects in the central field are missing; for example, letters missing in words while reading or faces blurred when talking with someone directly in front of you. Geographic atrophy begins to affect the ability to perform and enjoy the tasks of everyday living such as seeing faces, cooking, reading, writing and driving. In addition to a dark or gray blind spot that constantly stays in the central vision of the eye, other symptoms include colors that seem dull or washed out, vision increasingly becoming less sharp or detailed and the ability to see in the dark becomes more difficult.
There is currently no cure for geographic atrophy although ongoing clinical research for emerging treatments such as gene and cell therapy bring hope to those suffering from geographic atrophy. Lifestyle changes may slow progression. These include quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, regular exercise, vitamin supplements and consuming a nutritious diet rich in antioxidants. Low vision aids such as magnifiers and special eyeglasses may be prescribed. Risk factors from age-related macular degeneration that can develop into late stages producing geographic atrophy include age, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, race (more common among Caucasians), family history and smoking (which nearly doubles the risk).
Associated Retina Consultants offers testing that begins with a dilated eye exam to see the entire retina. If a large amount of drusen, yellow deposits, is found under the retina, it will look as if part of the retina is missing its dark melanin pigment. This is a telltale sign of geographic atrophy. Additional retinal imaging will capture different views of the retina and optic nerve including an OCT test (optical coherence tomography) that takes cross-section images of the back of the eye. Other testing includes the fundus photograph, fluorescein angiography and visual function and acuity tests.
If you or someone you know has lost some sight due to GA or other forms of AMD, low vision rehabilitation with a low vision specialist can help you continue to live independently by maximizing the use of the vision you still have. Contact our office by 602-242-4928 or visit online WEBSITE to learn more about vision loss resources.