What is macular degeneration?

The retina is the photosensitive sheet of tissue that lines the back of the eye and takes the “picture” to be sent to the brain. Macular degeneration is a condition caused by thinning of the retina a condition some people get as they age. As the condition progresses, about 10% of them will develop growth of abnormal blood vessels underneath the retina, which can cause severe loss of central vision. This disease only affects the center part of vision, never affects the side vision, and therefore never causes total blindness.

What are the symptoms of macular degeneration?

In the early stages of macular degeneration, people may have problems with night driving, needing more light to read, and a mild degree of blurriness of vision. In the more advanced stage of macular degeneration, central vision is lost, causing loss of the ability to read, recognize faces, drive a motor vehicle, or see the television.

How do we diagnose macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration is diagnosed by dilating the pupil and looking into the eye at the retina located at the back of the eye. If abnormal blood vessels are suspected, testing, such as fluorescein angiography and OCT scanning, is frequently performed.

How is macular degeneration treated?

Early stages of macular degeneration are treated with vitamins. The National Eye Institute did a large study proving the AREDS2 formula vitamins, commonly available at supermarkets and drugstores reduce the risk for visual loss from macular degeneration by about 25%. There is also research being done on lutein, zeathanthine, and omega-3 fatty acids to reduce the risk for visual loss from this disease.

In the more advanced stages of macular degeneration where abnormal blood vessels are growing and leaking, treatment options include laser, photodynamic therapy (PDT), and vascular endothelial growth factor inhibition (anti-VEGF). Anti-VEGFs are the newest drugs to treat this disease, and the only treatment that consistently stops progression of the disease and in 40% of the eyes allows visual improvement. The anti-VEGFs include Lucentis, Avastin and Eylea. Laser and PDT can also be very effective in special circumstances.

All of the treatments of abnormal blood vessel growth are most effective when the blood vessels just start growing. Recent onset of decreased vision, distortion, or blind spots in one eye are the most common symptoms seen when these vessels start, and this requires prompt care to allow maintenance of good vision.

In Summary

Macular degeneration is a condition where the retina gets thinner as one gets older, but in 10% of the cases, abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the retina to cause severe loss of the central part of vision. The sooner this is treated after symptoms occur, the better the vision is maintained with the very effective treatments we have available today.

If you are age 50 or older, don’t risk your vision. Please contact the Eye Surgery Center of Louisiana to schedule a vision exam at one of our New Orleans-area locations.

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