Slow the Toll of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

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Macular degeneration causes loss in the center of the field of vision.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition that affects people over the age of 50 and results in central vision loss, according to medical professionals. Because the loss of central vision interferes with everyday activities, ophthalmologists believe it’s important for people to recognize the symptoms of AMD and learn about its two types: wet and dry.

The two forms of AMD

Dry macular degeneration affects about 80-90% of people with AMD, and its cause is unknown, says Dr. Adam AufderHeide, an ophthalmologist at Retina Care Center in Medford. “Everyone starts out having the dry type of age-related macular degeneration,” he explains, adding that most people don’t know they have it until they experience vision loss. He says that an early sign of dry AMD are when small yellow deposits — called drusen — form on the retina beneath the macula, causing it to deteriorate over time.

Dry AMD is extensive wear and tear in the back of the eye, says Dr. Yujen Wang, an ophthalmologist with Oregon Retina Center in Medford. The dry type is the beginning stage of AMD, he explains, and once you convert into wet AMD, you will never go backwards. “Even with treatment, you will still have dry AMD in addition to the wet type,” he adds.

AufderHeide explains that with wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels under the retina start to grow toward the macula. “Since the blood vessels are abnormal, they break, bleed and leak fluid, which damages the macula and can result in a loss of your central vision,” he says.

“The sooner we can treat AMD, the better. Time equals vision,” says Dr. Adam AufderHeide, an ophthalmologist at Retina Care Center in Medford

Symptoms and treatment options

Wang says blurry central vision is one of the first signs of AMD. “If you look at someone’s face and it seems distorted, like a funhouse mirror face, that’s a red flag,” he explains. There’s no cure for dry macular degeneration, but he says reducing health risks such as smoking and obesity is considered a treatment for the early stages of the disease. “AMD also runs heavily in families, so check your history and see if you’re at a higher risk,” he says, noting that early detection can increase the effectiveness of future treatments.

Ophthalmologists are able to catch age-related macular degeneration earlier than ever before, says AufderHeide. “When we start wet AMD treatments early, there’s less bleeding into the eye, which minimizes damage and potential vision loss,” he explains. The growth of abnormal blood vessels is the catalyst for wet AMD, he says. “If medication can prevent those vessels from forming, that could stop wet AMD from worsening,” he adds.

There are three common treatments for wet AMD, says Wang, one of which is an anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor). “It’s an injection into the eye which inhibits the creation of new blood vessels behind the retina, and may keep leakage out of the retina,” he explains. However, he notes that most current treatments last about 4-6 weeks before requiring another injection.

Be proactive

Age-related macular degeneration affects your central vision, limiting how much you can see and do, according to AufderHeide and Wang. However, AufderHeide says ongoing education about AMD has taught people to be more proactive when they experience vision changes. “The sooner we can treat AMD, the better. Time equals vision,” says AufderHeide.

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More to Explore

New Technology, Research and Discoveries

According to Dr. Yujen Wang and Dr. Adam AufderHeide, there have been many advances in the treatment of age-related macular degeneration. They both say that while research is ongoing, there have been some recent breakthroughs.

A new technology — autofluorescence — allows ophthalmologists to look at the layer underneath the retina and monitor any changes.

Researchers are looking at the potential of stem cells to grow both rods and cones, and the supporting RPE cells. This treatment could improve damaged central vision.

In 2010, the FDA approved a small, implantable telescope which magnifies images onto the retina to improve central vision damaged by AMD.

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