Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss for people over the age of 55. This chronic eye disease affects more Americans than cataracts and glaucoma combined. The disease is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, known as the macula, which is responsible for central vision used for reading, driving and recognizing faces.
While macular degeneration can lead to central or legal blindness, it causes no pain. In many cases, the disease advances so slowly that those affected notice little change in their vision. In other cases, the disease progresses much faster and can lead to a loss of vision in both eyes. Those who have advanced macular degeneration in one eye are at especially high risk of developing it in the other eye.
Macular Degeneration has two forms:
Dry Macular Degeneration
Many cases of macular degeneration begin as the “dry” form which is characterized by the aging and thinning of the central retina, or macular, tissue. This condition typically develops slowly and results in mildly decreased vision. However, even the “dry” form can advance to severe visual loss over time. The distinguishing characteristic of this disease is tiny yellow deposits, called drusen, that develop under the retina. Dry macular degeneration requires regular monitoring with a dilated eye examination and often retinal testing with your eye doctor. In many cases, your doctor may recommend over the counter eye vitamins. In a recent study (The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2), a specific combination of vitamins C, E, zinc, copper, and antioxidants were shown to reduce the risk of progression of this disease. Your doctor will determine if eye vitamins are right for you. It is important for patients with macular degeneration to observe vision to detect subtle visual changes between appointments. You doctor may suggest you periodically test your vision with a special grid, called an Amsler Grid. It is important to alert your doctor if visual changes are seen between appointments. Although 10-15% of dry macular degeneration cases convert to the more serious form, wet macular degeneration, early detection of this change can stop or dramatically slow vision loss.
Wet Macular Degeneration
Wet macular degeneration begins when abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina’s macular tissue. These fragile blood vessels can suddenly leak fluid and blood, resulting in severe vision disturbances. Fortunately, there are medications now available to treat the wet form of this sight threatening disease. Early detection of of wet macular degeneration is critical. Patients with wet macular degeneration need close monitoring with frequent dilated eye examinations and retinal testing. Treatment of this condition often includes a series of medication (an anti-VEGF drug) injected into the eye. Ocular injections are a common procedure that are very well tolerated by patients. Treatment may help slow the progression of macular degeneration and can sometimes restore lost vision. While injections are the most common treatment for wet macular degeneration, you doctor may recommend other therapies including laser. Your individual treatment plan and visual prognosis depend on the severity of the disease.