Macular degeneration is a common condition

By Sara Harper

Q: My mother was diagnosed with macular degeneration. What is it and are there any treatments available?

A: Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration, is an eye disease that is characterized by damage to a part of the retina called the macula. The macula is necessary for clear central vision, so AMD ultimately leads to loss of central vision.

Symptoms include blurred vision and some specific visual disturbances: straight lines appear wavy, objects appear dark, facial recognition is impaired, and there may be a blind spot in central vision. Peripheral vision is not affected. AMD can develop in one or both eyes first, and eventually affect both. It rarely causes complete blindness.

AMD is very common and is the leading cause of vision loss in people over 50. Although the exact cause of AMD remains elusive, there are a number of factors that increase the risk of AMD: family history of AMD, Caucasian race, overweight, eating a diet high in saturated fat, and smoking. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease are also risk factors.

There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry AMD, by far the most common form, is characterized by the thinning of the macula and the breakdown of light-sensitive cells in the retina. On examination, an eye doctor may see drusen, yellow deposits of protein, under the retina.

Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow behind the retina and leak blood or fluid into the macula. This is a less common form of AMD and usually occurs in someone who already has dry AMD. About 10% of dry AMD cases progress to wet AMD.

There is currently no specific treatment for dry AMD. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and regular eye exams are important. Some patients may benefit from various supplements, including vitamins C and E, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and copper. It is important to consult a physician to determine which specific supplements and dosages may be helpful. Low vision tools such as magnifying glasses, computer display adjusters, and electronic reading aids can be helpful. Large print, audio and e-books are also available. Clinical trials are underway to determine if gene therapy is beneficial for dry AMD.

Treatment for wet AMD is more aggressive because this type of AMD can progress rapidly. Monthly injections of anti-vascular endothelial growth factor into the eye may be recommended. Some patients are candidates for retinal laser therapy. Both treatments work to stabilize the abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina and subsequently slow the progression of macular degeneration.

Vision loss can be traumatic and upsetting. Your eye doctor can suggest support groups and low vision specialists to help you and your mother through this difficult condition.

Sara Harper is a volunteer at the Grillo Center, which offers free, confidential research to help with health understanding and decisions. To use this service, contact grillocenter.org or 303-415-7293. No research or assistance should be construed as medical advice. We encourage informed consultation with a healthcare professional.

where to find it

Johns Hopkins Medicine:
hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/agerelated-macular-degeneration-amd
Google: hopkins medicine macular degeneration

American Academy of Ophthalmology:
www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/amd-macular-degeneration
Google: aao macular degeneration

Macular Degeneration Foundation:
eyeight.org/macular-degeneration/
Google: macular degeneration foundation, then select “What is AMD?”

Mayo Clinic:
mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-macular-degeneration/symptoms-causes/syc-20350375
Google: mayo clinic dry amd

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