Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. The macula refers to the central portion of the retinal that is responsible for fine focus visual acuity. Visual images are focused by the cornea and the lens on to the macula. From the macula the visual information is sent via the optic nerve to the brain, where it is interpreted as sight. When cells in the macula degenerate, images are not properly received by the retina and the patient experiences symptoms such as blurred, distorted or missing vision. Treatment for macular degeneration depends on the type and nature of each individual’s condition.
Types of Macular Degeneration
There are various forms of macular degeneration including dry macular degeneration, geographic atrophy, and wet macular degeneration.
Dry Macular Degeneration
Dry macular degeneration is the predominant form of the disease, characterized by the presence of drusen and retinal pigment changes. Drusen are small, yellow deposits made of cellular waste products. If any symptoms are present, patients with dry macular degeneration often experience mild visual distortions. Dry macular degeneration often advances slowly. While there is no cure for dry macular degeneration, AREDS vitamins have been shown to significantly slow disease progression.
Geographic atrophy is a severe form of dry macular degeneration. Patients with geographic atrophy can experience significant central vision loss due to the loss of the pigmented cells beneath the macula. These cells unfortunately do not regenerate and vision loss is often chronic. At present, there are no treatments or cures for geographic atrophy. Numerous clinical trials are being conducted with hopes of better understand this disease process.
Wet Macular Degeneration
Wet macular degeneration accounts for roughly 10 percent of patients with macular degeneration. this disease is deemed “wet” due the presence of leakage and bleeding in the macula due to neovascularization, the abnormal proliferation of blood vessels. While visual distortions and loss tends to be more severe with the wet form of macular degeneration, there are several intravitreal medications (medications that are injected into the jelly-like substance in the back of the eye) as well as laser therapy (for certain cases only) to halt visual loss and even regain lost vision. These eye injection medications are referred to as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitors (anti-VEGF), and include Avastin, Lucentis and Eylea.
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
The symptoms of macular degeneration might be difficult to distinguish from other age-related sight issues at first. The signs and symptoms of macular degeneration often vary from patient to patient, but may include:
- Loss of central vision
- Changes in color perception
- Blurry, dark patches in the central vision
Vision changes in macular degeneration may occur suddenly or progress slowly. You may experience better vision under certain environmental conditions, but symptoms of macular degeneration do not resolve on their own.
Causes of Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration can have a hereditary component, though age seems to be the leading cause. As you age, the chances of developing macular degeneration increase. Women have a slight propensity over men to develop macular degeneration. Smoking, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and high cholesterol are all risk factors for macular degeneration.
Regular eye exams can usually diagnose macular degeneration before vision is affected. Your ophthalmologist can treat macular degeneration to protect your vision. Schedule an eye examination at Eye Consultants of Silicon Valley today or give us a call at 408-295-3433.