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Macular degeneration affects the portion of the retina responsible for central vision. This central vision is essential for detailed tasks like reading, recognizing faces, driving, etc. Although macular degeneration does decrease a person’s peripheral vision, it can be especially disabling if left untreated.
Macular Degeneration has two forms: Dry (Milder and more common) and Wet (more severe and less common). Dry Macular Degeneration is characterized by a gradual development over many years and typically results in less severe central vision loss. Typically, small particles of lipid develop underneath the Macula, known as Drusen. Ultimately, this results in slow atrophy and loss of the Macular photoreceptors, which in turn decreases the patient’s ability to see their central vision.
When abnormal blood vessels begin to grow in the Macula, a patient is said to “Wet” Macular Degeneration. These blood vessels may begin to leak and the fluids can permanently damage the photoreceptors of the Macula and surrounding Retina. Although much more rare, this form of Macular Degeneration is responsible for the vast majority of central vision blindness caused by Macular Degeneration.
The cause of macular degeneration has yet to be discovered. There are several risk factors that make a person more likely to suffer from this condition. Age greater than 60, family history, smoking, hypertension, obesity and high cholesterol may all contribute to the development of macular degeneration. It is thought that genetics likely place key role, though the exact gene has not yet been isolated.
Symptoms of Macular degeneration:
- Difficulty with central vision blurriness, shadows or holes in the vision.
- Distortion of Straight lines, often appearing curved or wavy.
- Difficulty differentiating colors, especially ones similar color tones.
- Sensitivity to bright light and a delay in visional adaption after exposure to bright light.
Dry Macular Degeneration Treatment:
The only proven treatment for the dry form of macular degeneration is dietary supplementation with specific vitamin antioxidants and zinc to help slow the development of dry macular degeneration. Patients who have risk factors should schedule a checkup with their ophthalmologist at least once every year, in order to identify the disease at its earliest stage.
Although there is no cure for wet macular degeneration, there are multiple treatment options designed to slow or treat the damage caused by the disease. Early detection is paramount. Once vision is lost from macular degeneration, there are currently no treatments to restore sight that has already been lost. Wet macular degeneration treatment options:
- LASER photocoagulation. Microscopic laser spots are used to seals leaking blood vessels. This treatment may halt the disease and help preserve the remaining vision of a patient. However, a small scar is created which results in a permanent blind spot in the patient’s vision. This treatment is only an option for a small portion of cases, as it requires the sacrificed of a portion of vision to halt the progression of the disease into other parts of the vision.
- Photodynamic therapy: This light-activated “cold” LASER uses a drug that is injected intravenously. Then the surgeon directs the LASER on the affected area, which activates the drug as it passes through the abnormal blood vessels. Unlike other LASER treatments, this procedure leaves no scar and may be repeated multiple times.
- Anti-VEGF drugs: These newer treatment options inhibit the molecules that cause the body to develop abnormal blood vessels. They are known as anti-VEGF (anti-vascular endothelial growth factor) drugs. There are a variety of drugs in this category. Avastin is the most commonly used drug for the treatment of wet macular degeneration, though several new drugs have recently been approved, including Lucentis and VEGF-trap.