About 11 million people in the United States live with macular degeneration, a progressive eye disease. It’s more accurately termed age-related macular degeneration (AMD) because the biggest risk factor is age, with most cases occurring in men and women 55 and older. It’s the leading cause of vision loss for that group — more than glaucoma and cataracts combined.
The exact cause of AMD isn’t yet known, primarily because research funding hasn’t been sufficient to conduct the necessary trials. What we do know, however, is the condition likely results from a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors.
Our expert team of ophthalmologists at Retina Specialists specializes in diagnosing and treating all forms of retinal diseases, including macular degeneration. Our goal is to preserve as much of your vision as possible and improve your quality of life. That’s why we offer five helpful treatments for the condition. Keep reading to learn about them.
AMD occurs when the small, central part of the retina, the light-sensing tissue at the back of the eye, starts to deteriorate. This region, which comprises only 2% of the retina’s area, is termed the macula.
AMD doesn’t cause total blindness, as it only affects the central — not peripheral — part of your vision. Instead, you see a black spot in the middle of your visual field that moves with your eyes and prevents you from performing everyday tasks such as reading, driving, and even recognizing faces and colors.
The eye functions much like a camera. The clear lens in your eyeball bends incoming light and focuses it on the light-sensitive tissue at the back. When everything functions normally, the macula collects the clear and highly detailed information right in front of you and sends it on to the optic nerve, which shuttles it to the brain for decoding.
When the macula becomes damaged, it can’t record information properly, and your brain struggles to make sense of it. As a result, you see only a partial image.
AMD comes in two forms: dry and wet.
The dry form of AMD accounts for 85-90% of all cases. Here, the macula thins and accumulates small deposits of lipids and proteins on its surface, collectively known as drusen. Drusen probably don’t directly cause AMD, but their presence is an early sign you have the disease.
Symptoms of dry AMD include:
If you have dry AMD, the doctor will likely prescribe low-vision rehabilitation.
Most patients who have wet AMD first experience the dry form.
With wet AMD, the drusen aren’t present, but abnormal blood vessels develop behind the retina. They leak blood into the macular tissue, which damages the cells and causes scarring.
Symptoms are similar to those of the dry form, but because blood vessels leak, wet AMD progresses faster than dry AMD.
Treatments depend on whether you have the dry or wet form of AMD.
Low-vision rehabilitation teaches you how to use more of your peripheral vision, and provides assistive devices such as magnifiers to help you cope with central vision loss. It can help people with either the dry or wet form of AMD.
The AREDS 2 (Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2) was conducted from 2006-2012 to determine which nutritional supplements might help people lower their risk of late-stage or wet AMD. The recommended combination includes:
Photodynamic therapy involves activating a light-sensitive medication in your eye, which creates clots in the abnormal vessels, sealing them off and helping prevent further vision loss.
Laser surgery can cauterize the errant blood vessels, preventing further leakage into the macula.
The antivascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) class of medications, repurposed from a treatment for colon cancer, can help people with the wet form of AMD. The doctor injects the drug directly into the eye at regular intervals, where it prevents new blood vessel growth.
Keep in mind that any damage to the macula can’t be reversed. The anti-VEGF drugs can only prevent future deterioration.
Do you have macular degeneration or suspect you might be at risk? Then it’s time to come into Retina Specialists for an evaluation and treatment. Call us at any of our five Texas offices — Dallas, DeSoto, Plano, Mesquite, and Waxahachie.