What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over the age of 60. Commonly referred to as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), it is a condition that results as part of the natural aging process. Degeneration or deterioration of the macula (the very center of the retina) occurs, causing your central vision to become blurry, dark, or distorted. Damage to your central vision can affect your ability to see near and far, and can make some activities – like reading and driving – difficult or impossible.
The first signs of AMD may be the appearance of spots in your vision, called drusen. You may also notice distortion in straight lines or a difference in the appearance of colors from one eye to the other. If you notice a change in vision, see your doctor promptly for an evaluation. Early detection and proper management are key to preventing vision loss.
Forms of AMD:
Ninety percent of all people with AMD suffer from the Dry form. Drusen spots on the macula that are present for a long time may cause a thinning of the tissues of the macula and create atrophy causing a slow progression of vision loss. Symptoms of Dry AMD typically advance slowly and may be hardly noticeable. However, if you have Dry AMD, it can change to Wet AMD which is more severe. Therefore, it is essential to monitor your vision daily and report any change.
The “wet” form accounts for about ten percent of all AMD cases. As dry AMD worsens, abnormal blood vessels form under the macula and allow fluid and blood to leak causing damage to the overlying retinal tissue, and can lead to rapid and severe loss of central vision. If diagnosed early, treatments are available which can seal the vessels and slow or restore vision loss.
Although there are currently no cures for macular degeneration, there are several treatments which can help to reduce the impacts of AMD and maintain vision for some people.
Nutritional Supplements – such as high dose combinations of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, and fish oil tablets (omega 3 fatty acids).
In the not too distant past, certain types of “wet” macular degeneration were treated exclusively with laser surgery, a brief out patient procedure that used a focused beam of light to slow or stop leaking blood vessels that damaged the macula. The problem with this treatment was that a lot of healthy retina tissue was destroyed in the process. Patients often experienced large blind spots that, unfortunately, were permanent.
Today, treatment of wet degeneration frequently involves a more focused, specific approach. New drugs are available (Lucentis, Avastin) that allow us to target the leaking blood vessels and cause them to shrink and eventually disappear. The overlying retina is saved and patients report much better results. Riverside Eye Center is one of the few practices in our community that offers this.