What is Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is a degenerative macular disease which more commonly develops as a person approaches middle age.  Macular degeneration affects the macula, the part of the retina responsible for sharp central vision needed for reading, driving, distinguishing colors and for perceiving fine detail.  As macular degeneration progresses central vision is distorted leaving only peripheral vision.

Macular degeneration is a progressive eye condition that is recognized as the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 50.  This eye disease attacks a portion of the eye called the macula – the center portion of the retina.  When macular degeneration attacks the central vision, it leaves “dim images” or “holes” at the center of a persons vision, leaving only peripheral vision.

Two Types of Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is classified as either dry macular degeneration or wet macular degeneration.  Wet macular degeneration is less common but the most severe form of this eye disease.

Dry macular degeneration accounts for approximately 90 percent of the cases of this eye disease.  This form of macular degeneration reults from the aging of the retina and occurs when a substance called drusen accumulates on the macula.  Drusen is typically characterized as yellowish spots that buiid up on the eye, impacting central vision.  With dry macular degeneration vision loss is gradual and generally not as severe as the wet form of this eye disease.

Wet macular degeneration is the less common form of this eye disease and accounts for approximately 10 percent of the diagnosed cases.  Wet macular degeneration results from the abnormal growth of blood vessels that grow beneath the retina.  These blood vessels “leak” blood and fluid, resulting in scarring and damge to the retinal cells.  The damage caused is typically permanent and causes a sudden and progressive loss of vision.  The damage caused by the leaking blood vessels associated with wet macular degeneration is often permanent.

Is There a Cure for Macular Degeneration?

There is no cure for macular degeneration.  There are some promising treatments that can slow the progression of the eye disease and in some cases improve vision.  The types of treatments available will vary, depending on the type of macular degeneration that a patient has been diagnosed with.

Wet macular degeneration treatments are primarily focused on stopping the abnormal blood vessel growth.  These treatments for the eye disease includes the injection of specialized drugs known as anti-VEGF drugs into the eye or the use of a cold laser (photodynamic therapy).

Research has shown that the most promising treatment for macular degeneration is the injection of anti-VEGF drugs.  The most common drugs used for the treatment of this eye disease is Lucentis and Macugen.  In some cases the cancer drug Avastin (very close in molecular makeup of Lucentis) is used as an “off label” usage because it costs considerably less than Lucentis.  These drugs have shown to halt the progression of the eye disease and in some instances reverse the damage cause by the macular degeneration, restoring the patients vision.

There is no cure for dry macular degeneration.  If detected early, this version of the eye disease can be effectively treated to slow the progression of the disease.  Once the disease has reached advanced stages, there is no way to prevent total vision loss.

Several studies have shown that certain antioxidants and zinc can reduce the advancement of dry macular degeneration.  Vission will not be restored bu the progression of the eye disease can be slowed with these supplements.

What Does this Mean for Macular Degeneration Patients?

Age-related macular degeneration is a serious health concern for the aging and the elderly population.  It is essential that people take an active role in their eye care and have regular eye examinations.  Macular degeneration is a real threat and prevention of this eye disease starts at education and early detection.