February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month. There are several forms of macular degeneration, but age-related macular degeneration is the fastest-growing form of the disease.
Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of severe vision loss and blindness in adults over 60 in the United States.
About Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is a progressive eye disease affecting nearly 15 million Americans. The disease is an attack on the macula, which is the central part of the retina and is responsible for sharp central vision. Degeneration of the macula can result in blurred vision or loss in central vision and can affect the ability to read, drive and see clearly.
Macular degeneration is typically a hereditary disease, though smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and fair skin are also risk factors. Women are more likely than men to develop macular degeneration.
Symptoms of the disease include dark, blurry spots in the center of vision; distorted center of vision; diminished or changed color perception and straight lines appearing wavy.
Total blindness, while possible, rarely occurs with macular degeneration, but the ability to see straight ahead can be lost.
Types of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
There are two main types of age-related macular degeneration: dry macular degeneration and wet macular degeneration. Treatment for macular degeneration depends on the type of degeneration and ranges from nutritional supplements to laser treatment.
Dry Macular Degeneration: This is the more common of the two types of macular degeneration and is characterized by the presence of yellow deposits, called drusen, in the macula. Drusen is thought to be debris from the deteriorating macular tissue. As drusen grow in size and number, they can cause dimming or distortion of vision, most noticeable when reading. As the condition progresses, atrophy or tissue death may occur in the light-sensitive layer of cells in the macula, causing some patients to experience blind spots in the center of their vision. In more advanced stages of the disease, central vision may be lost altogether.
Wet Macular Degeneration: This form of macular degeneration accounts for only about 10 percent of cases, but it is responsible for the majority of cases of serious vision loss from macular degeneration. Wet macular degeneration is characterized by the growth of abnormal blood vessels underneath the macula. These blood vessels can leak blood and fluid into the retina, causing distortion of vision. They may also lead to scarring, which can result in permanent loss of central vision.
Treatment for Age-Related Macular Degeneration
There is no cure for age-related macular degeneration, but treatments are available for the wet form of the eye disease. Treatment for wet macular degeneration may include the prescription of medication such as Avastin to block the development of new blood vessels and leaking from existing blood vessels in the eye. Laser therapy or sub-macular surgery may be performed to remove abnormal blood vessels underneath the macula.
Patients diagnosed with either form of macular degeneration should closely monitor their vision and see their eye doctor regularly. Changes in diet to include more green, leafy vegetables, vitamins and supplements may be recommended to patients with age-related macular degeneration.
Early and timely treatment is most critical in preventing vision loss. If you are over age 60 and have not had a routine comprehensive eye exam in the last year, contact us.