Macular Degeneration Treatments
What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration occurs when the macula (central part of the back of the eye) deteriorates. The macula region of the retina (multi-layered tissue lining the back of the eye) is responsible for central vision as well as intricate vision tasks. Over time vision can become distorted, due to the swelling and leakage of tissue around the macula, and accurate vision can be lost. Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD or ARMD) is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness for people in America over 65 years of age. It is estimated that close to 2 million people in the United States have significant difficulty with detailed vision tasks due to AMD.
Testing for Macular Degeneration
Signs of AMD can be detected early in a thorough dilated retinal examination provided by your optometrist even before you notice the vision loss. This is, in part, because one eye normally progresses more rapidly than the other, and unless the patient is looking at images with only one eye, he or she would not notice the loss of vision in the worse eye. During a retina examination, the eye doctor may ask the patient to view a grid pattern, called an Amsler grid. A distortion detected in the grid pattern by the patient may be a sign of the disease. Once detected, the doctor may order other special tests like retinal photographs, Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) or Fluoroscein Angiography (FA) to determine if AMD is the wet or dry form, and the extent of its progression.
Signs & Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
The first physical sign of AMD is the development of drusen or yellowish spots that form in the back of the eye, which are thought to be deposits of eye tissue from the macula region. As the tissue dies due to AMD, debris from the dying cells builds up in the retina. Drusen is an early sign of the dry form of AMD, which accounts for about 90 percent of macular degeneration cases. In the dry form of the disease, thinning macula is an observable symptom. Over time, the macula region becomes too thin to function properly. The reason for macular thinning is not known and at this time no treatment options are available to cure dry AMD. Dry AMD causes a slow and painless loss of vision. While wet AMD accounts for a smaller percentage of cases, it results in a much more drastic and rapid vision loss.
Wet AMD (Neovascular) Macular Degeneration
The wet (neovascular) form of AMD occurs when new blood vessels begin to grow around the macula region. These vessels grow due to a biological process called neovascularization. Neovascularization occurs when the body suddenly increases the development of new blood vessels in an attempt to bring more oxygen and nutrients to damaged tissue. Unfortunately, the new blood vessels in wet AMD are abnormal and cause more damage because they begin to leak blood and fluid. This leakage can cause scarring to the delicate tissues in the macula region that capture and interpret visual images. The leakage can also cause swelling of the macula region, known as macula edema.
Treatment for Macular Degeneration
Our vitreoretinal specialists are here to provide help and hope to patients who are suffering from sight-threatening diseases like AMD. Our retina team has several effective options available to treat and sometimes reverse the effects of wet AMD. Laser treatments and certain medications, including steroids and Anti-VEGF treatments, are available to control wet AMD. Sometimes these treatment methods are used in conjunction with each other. In cases of severe bleeding, a vitrectomy may be necessary to protect the retina from the vessels that are causing the bleeding. Other wet macular degeneration treatments available at Eye Health Partners include Eylea and Lucentis.
Some studies show that specific types of nutrients are best for slowing or reversing the progress of AMD. These include beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamin C, vitamin E and lutein (found primarily in spinach, kale and other fruits and vegetables). Our specialists can recommend a vitamin supplement that contains the nutrients for eye health.
The body naturally produces a chemical termed Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF). When normally produced, this chemical aids in tissue regeneration and healing. However, in wet AMD cases, VEGF causes the abnormal, leaky vessels to form in the retina. Researchers have found that by blocking this chemical we can slow the growth of the unhealthy vessels, the fluid leakage, and resulting vision loss. Powerful new Anti-VEGF medications like Lucentis, Macugen, and Avastin have been found effective in controlling and in some cases reversing the vision loss caused by wet AMD.
To learn more about macular degeneration and the treatment options available at Eye Health Partners, please schedule a consultation with a retinal specialist at one of our Alabama or Tennessee locations.