Macular Degeneration, also referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in Americans 60 years of age and older. This eye disease, which affects the part of the retina (the macula) responsible for the sharp, central vision, comes in two types – dry (non-neovascular) and wet (neovascular).
• The dry form, which is the more common of the two types (accounting for 85-90% of AMD cases), is characterized by the presence of yellow deposits, called drusen, in the macula. As these drusen grow in size and number, they may lead to a dimming or distortion of vision.
• The wet form is characterized by the growth of abnormal blood vessels from the choroid underneath the macula. These blood vessels leak blood and other fluid into the retina, causing distorted vision that makes straight lines appear wavy, as well as loss of central vision. These abnormal blood vessels eventually scar, leading to permanent loss of central vision.
Macular Degeneration tends to affect Caucasians and females more than other demographics. Additional risk factors include:
• Obesity and Inactivity. Overweight patients with macular degeneration have more than double the risk of developing advanced forms of macular degeneration compared with people of normal body weight.
• Heredity. Recent studies have found that specific variants of different genes are present in most people who have macular degeneration.
• High Blood Pressure (Hypertension). High blood pressure may be associated with development of macular degeneration.
• Smoking. One study found smoking to be directly associated with about 25 percent of AMD cases causing severe vision loss.
• Lighter Eye Color. Some researchers have theorized that the extra pigment found in darker eyes was a protective factor against the development of the eye disease.
The symptoms of macular degeneration include:
• Straight lines start to appear distorted, or the center of vision becomes distorted
• Dark, blurry areas or white out appears in the center of vision
• Diminished or changed color perception
If you experience any of these symptoms, see your eye doctor as soon as possible.
Regular eye exams can help to detect macular degeneration before it causes significant vision loss. While there is no cure for AMD, treatment can slow vision loss.
Treatment options include:
Anti-angiogenesis drugs: These medications block the development of new blood vessels and leakage from the abnormal vessels within the eye that cause wet macular degeneration.
Vitamins: A recent study found that vitamins C, E, beta carotene, zinc and copper can decrease the risk of vision loss in patients with intermediate to advanced dry macular degeneration.
Laser therapy: High-energy laser light can sometimes be used to destroy actively growing abnormal blood vessels that occur in macular degeneration.
Photodynamic laser therapy: A two-step treatment in which a light sensitive drug is used to damage the abnormal blood vessels. A doctor injects the drug into the bloodstream to be absorbed by the abnormal blood vessels in the eye. The doctor then shines a cold laser into the eye to activate the drug, damaging the abnormal blood vessels.
Low vision aids: Devices that have special lenses or electronic systems that produce enlarged images of nearby objects.
Submacular surgery (experimental): Surgery to remove the abnormal blood vessels or blood.
Retinal translocation (experimental): A surgical procedure used to destroy abnormal blood vessels that are located directly under the center of the macula, where a laser beam cannot be placed safely.
Currently, about 1.75 million U.S. residents currently have advanced age-related macular degeneration with associated vision loss, with that number expected to grow to almost 3 million by 2020.
If you feel you may be at risk, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor as soon as possible. As with any eye disease, early detection and treatment are your best options.
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