What Is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a breakdown of the retinal tissue in the macula of an affected eye. The macula is a small area in the back of the eye that allows a person to see fine detail. The breakdown of the macula causes decreased central vision, which can affect our distance and near vision. Many studies have revealed that the frequency of this disease increases dramatically after age 60, and there is currently no cure available.
Types of Macular Degeneration
There are two types of macular degeneration: “dry” (atrophic) and “wet” (exudative). Dry macular degeneration is the most common. It is caused by the degeneration of the retinal tissue within the macula as you age. It is commonly referred to as AMD or ARMD, which stands for Age Related Macular Degeneration. Approximately ten percent of the population will develop dry AMD. Vision loss in dry AMD is typically gradual.
Wet AMD occurs when there is new blood vessel growth behind the macula caused by the degeneration process. These new blood vessels leak in the back of the eye. Vision loss from this type of macular degeneration is often more rapid and severe.
The wet form of AMD is much less common than the dry type and occurs in approximately 10 percent of patients who have the disease. However, wet AMD accounts for 90 percent of the severe visual loss that is associated with macular degeneration.
Treatment of Macular Degeneration
Unfortunately, there is no treatment at this time for dry macular degeneration. Recently, studies have shown that a specific combination of vitamins, known as the AREDS vitamin formula, can be useful in reducing the severity of AMD. This combination of vitamins, named for the National Eye Institute’s Age Related Eye Disease Study, can be purchased over the counter. Please check with your eye care professional for additional information on the use of these vitamins.
In the wet form of macular degeneration, blood vessels grow abnormally beneath the retina, damaging the macula and distorting the vision. Wet macular degeneration responds best when treated in its early stage. There are a number of treatments available, including thermal laser, which attempts to kill the new blood vessel with heat, and cold laser, which activates a light-sensitive drug in an attempt to kill the new blood vessel without additional damage to the retina.
Intraocular Drug Therapy is the newest treatment available. This treatment involves injecting a drug into the eye to neutralize the conditions causing the growth of new blood vessels. Please note that most all of the treatments available are therapies requiring a number of treatments to be performed over an extended period of time to achieve success.
Defining success in treatment is also important. Every current treatment for wet AMD is used in an attempt to maintain the patient’s vision at the level at which they present when they are first seen by the doctor. Although some success has been achieved in improving patients’ vision with treatment, the true goal of treatment is to stop vision loss.
Prevention of macular degeneration
Unfortunately, macular degeneration is not wholly preventable. The use of AREDS vitamin therapy is a good start at trying to limit this disease process. Daily use of the Amsler Grid for those who have been diagnosed with AMD is a required measure to help detect early visual distortion related to wet AMD.
The Amsler Grid
Patients over 60 should receive regular eye exams and be vigilant for signs of cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and other age-related vision problems, because the key to preventing vision loss is early detection and treatment.