EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE) — It’s been said the “eyes are the gateway to the soul.” There is no denying they are an important part of your health, and that they change over time.

Most people 41 and older will develop problems seeing at close distances. But there is a far greater problem called macular degeneration which can cause vision loss. Even though there’s a test to determine your risk for macular degeneration, many people are not getting it.

Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is considered the leading cause of blindness and vision loss for Americans ages 60 and older. Essentially, AMD is wear and tear on your eyes.

“And what most people don’t realize is when they see a change in their vision they think they need glasses or they might have cataract formation as they’ve heard from other folks, they don’t think it’s really a problem with the back of their eyes,” said Dr. Philip Ferrone, President of the Foundation of the American Society of Retina Specialists (FASRS).

According to Dr. Philip Ferrone, that problem is when a part of the retina called the macula is damaged.

“There are 8 million people in the U.S. who are affected by age-related macular degeneration and that number is expected to double by 2050,” stated Dr. Ferrone.

The best way to detect AMD damage is through a dilated eye exam. But nearly one in three Americans 40 and older have not had a dilated eye exam in the last five years or more. 13 percent have never had one at all. The statistics are alarming because the reason for eye dilations is to look for changes in the back of the eye or retina that could lead to blindness or vision loss. And if you think AMD is only a senior citizen problem, think again.

When asked if age-related macular degeneration is limited to just the 65 and older crowd?

“Not at all. I mean, if you’re 60, you can be 50 and have age-related macular degeneration,” Dr. Ferrone replied

This brings us back to the importance of a dilated eye exam. Early diagnosis of AMD can help preserve vision and limit vision loss.

“We have excellent drugs now that are injected into the eye and there are millions of these injections done every year to treat blinding eye disease such as macular degeneration,” described Dr. Ferrone.

In the meantime, Dr. Ferrone says you can take steps to limit the risk of AMD such as wearing sunglasses, quitting smoking, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and controlling your weight and blood pressure.

Visit the macular degeneration website to learn more about how to maintain healthy retinas so you can see for a lifetime.