WHAT IS MACULAR DEGENERATION?
Macular degeneration (also known as age-related macular degeneration) is an eye disease caused by deterioration of the central portion of the retina. The retina is the inside portion of the eye that receives light and sends these images to the optic nerve. Then, the optic nerve sends images to the brain which translates them into what we know as sight. When central retinal cells, also known as the macula, deteriorate they are unable to transfer light to the optic nerve. This results in the central vision deteriorating. Losing central vision may result in the inability to read, drive, watch television, or see objects in fine detail. According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, the disease affects more Americans than cataracts and glaucoma combined.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF MACULAR DISEASES?
The macula can see 20/20 or better and is the thinnest, most metabolically active part of the retina. When the macula is injured, the quality and level of visual acuity drops. Common types of macular degeneration are:
- Diabetic macular edema
- Dry macular degeneration
- Ischemic diabetic maculopathy
- Macular holes
- Vitreomacular traction
- Wet macular degeneration
WET VS DRY MACULAR DEGENERATION
There are two major types of macular degeneration including “dry” and “wet.” The dry form of macular degeneration is characterized by a gradual loss of vision caused by the gradual aging of the macula which is the part of the retina that can potentially have 20/20 Vision.
In the wet form of macular degeneration, leakage of fluid and blood in the macula can destroy clear central vision. If caught in time, vision can often be restored for wet macular degeneration patients to excellent levels with medication and sometimes laser therapy.
SYMPTOMS OF AGE-RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION
The symptoms for wet and dry macular degeneration present themselves differently. Patients with dry macular degeneration may notice gradual changes to their vision, including shadowy areas, fuzzy or distorted vision, difficulty seeing color or fine details, and blind spots.
As the disease progresses, dry macular degeneration can progress to the wet form. In this case, patients may also perceive straight lines as crooked, have increasingly larger blind spots, and continuous loss of central vision. In as little as a few days or weeks patients can lose central vision rapidly With wet macular degeneration, patients can sometimes lose central vision in as little as a few days or weeks.
HOW IS MACULAR DEGENERATION DIAGNOSED?
When diagnosing age-related macular degeneration Dr. Sondheimer may be able to detect the early signs through a regular eye examination. This includes even when the patient shows no symptoms. To further confirm the existence of macular degeneration, Dr. Sondheimer can use an Amsler grid test. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to preventing permanent vision loss. A diagnosis is also important in order to distinguish macular diseases from other common causes of decreased vision such as cataracts.
TREATMENT FOR MACULAR DEGENERATION
In the recent past, most patients with wet macular degeneration became legally blind. To date, there is no cure, although research is advancing to learning more about the disease. Now many patients can be effectively treated with an injection of bevacizumab inside the eye. The injections control bleeding or leaky blood vessels and cause them to regress and heal.
Before turning to injections, patients should check the vision in each eye every day with an Amsler grid, provided by Dr. Sondheimer, to make sure vision is not deteriorating. Additionally, patients should take vitamins for eye health. Dr. Sondheimer can recommend the best vitamin therapy for each patient at their consultation.
TREATMENT ADVANCES FOR MACULAR DEGENERATION
The National Eye Institute has done much to enhance the cause of healthy vision, including the following pioneering advances:
- NEI-supported scientists are determining whether transplanting healthy cells into the macula might lead to better vision for people with blinding diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration.
- Researchers are exploring the effects that gene-based treatment strategies may have on slowing some forms of retinal degeneration.