Macular degeneration: What it is and who’s at risk

Is someone you know at risk?

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in individuals age 60 and older. I first heard about it in the late 1980s when I learned my grandmother had been diagnosed with it. At first, Grandma could still read with the help of a magnifying glass, and for many years she continued to enjoy watching “Jeopardy!” and other TV shows. But as time passed, her vision slipped away, and by the time she died in 1996 she was blind.

There are two types of macular degeneration: wet and dry. Both types cause loss of vision in the center of the retina — the macula. Symptoms of dry macular degeneration, the most common type, develop gradually, whereas wet macular degeneration symptoms usually appear and progress rapidly. Sometimes dry macular degeneration progresses to wet macular degeneration, causing rapid vision loss.

The risk of developing macular degeneration increases with age, and the condition is more common in Caucasians. Other risk factors include a family history of the disease, smoking, obesity, a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables, elevated cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

Diagnosis

Individuals with macular degeneration typically exhibit yellow deposits called drusen under the retina in the back of the eye. They also may have defects in the center of their vision, abnormal blood vessels in the eye, and retinal thinning, thickening or swelling caused by fluid accumulation from leaking blood vessels.

Symptoms

Symptoms of macular degeneration include visual distortions, decreased central vision, difficulty recognizing faces, crooked central vision, decreased intensity or brightness of colors, a well-defined blurry spot or blind spot, abrupt onset, rapid worsening and hallucinations of geometric shapes, animals or people.

When to see a doctor

“If you notice changes in your central vision, such as a dark spot that causes central blurring, or if straight lines become wavy, see an eye doctor,” said Norman D. Radtke, M.D., FACS, director, Retina Vitreous Resource Center. “In addition, if any of your family members have macular degeneration — even if you aren’t having symptoms — ask your eye doctor to check for drusen during your regular eye exam.”

Treatment

Because dry macular degeneration progresses slowly, many people with the disease live normal lives. Doctors may prescribe high doses of antioxidant vitamins, which may slow the vision loss. Making lifestyle changes to eliminate risk factors is also recommended. Selected people may be eligible to have a telescopic lens implanted in one eye to improve distance and close-up vision.

Treatment for wet macular degeneration may include medication to help stop the growth of new blood vessels. Some people may partially recover vision following such treatment, which involves having Avastin, Lucentis, Macugen or Eylea injected directly into the eye every four weeks.

Another treatment for wet macular degeneration, photodynamic therapy, may improve vision and reduce the rate of vision loss. In certain situations, laser therapy may be used to destroy abnormal blood vessels under the macula.

For more information, visit:

Mayo Clinic Macular Degeneraiton

Mayo Clinic Wet Macular Degeneration

American Society of Retina Specialists


Wellness for Life: Macular Degeneration and the Older Adult

Presented by Norman Radtke, M.D.
Wednesday, Sept. 17, 5 to 6 p.m.
Norton Audubon Hospital

Register online or (502) 629-1234 for more information.


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