February is Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Awareness Month. AMD is a common eye condition and is the leading cause of vision loss in older adults.
OKEECHOBEE — February is Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Awareness Month. AMD is a common eye condition and is the leading cause of vision loss in older adults.
According to Optical Gallery’s Dr. Richard Soldinger, Macular Degeneration can be hereditary in rare cases, but the vast majority of cases are due to aging.
“There are layers in the macula, one of which is called the retinal pigment epithelium. This is the deepest layer of the macula,” he explained. “The cells in the retinal pigment epithelium nourish the photo receptors, and they have another job as well.”
There are chemical reactions that occur in the photo receptor cells. Some of the waste products created are taken away by the retinal pigment epithelium.
Sometimes as a result of normal aging or exposure to too much UV light or certain lifestyle issues such as smoking, the retinal pigment epithelium can start to degenerate. When this happens, it can cause damage to the photo receptor cells.
There are two main types of macular degeneration — wet and dry.
Dry macular degeneration is degeneration in the retinal pigment epithelium. It is slow moving and takes a long time to really affect the eyesight. Dry macular degeneration affects the center of your vision. It can become wavy and fuzzy, making reading difficult. It can eventually cause dark spots in the center of your vision.
Wet macular degeneration is a much more serious condition. Like with the dry type, there is a degeneration of the retinal pigment epithelium cells but in addition, there can be spaces in the lower layers of the macula. The spaces can allow blood vessels to grow through these defects in the layer. When the blood vessels grow, they can start to leak and cause edema, an accumulation of fluid in the deeper layers. The new blood vessels tend to bleed easily and leak fluid. That fluid can damage the photo receptors. This type of macular degeneration moves much more quickly and can cause some vision loss right away. Normally, patients complain lines appear to be wavy or crooked. They may also have a blurry area in the center of their vision or difficulty seeing in dim lighting.
He said 90% of those diagnosed with macular degeneration have the dry type.
One of the things you can do to prevent both types of macular degeneration is to wear sunglasses from the time you are young. “It has been shown that UV radiation can damage those sensitive cells. Eat a healthy diet. Don’t smoke. All the things you would do to keep you healthy in general is healthy for your eyes.”
There is no treatment for dry macular degeneration, but there is a treatment for wet. Unfortunately, it involves injections directly into the eye. These injections normally need to be given anywhere from once a month to once every three months, depending on how your eye reacts. These injections can help stop new blood vessels from forming and can potentially help you recover some lost vision if started early enough. This treatment was discovered during cancer tumor treatment trials, he said. “They were experimenting with a chemical called anti-VEGF and found they could use the chemical to stop the blood vessels’ growth. Somebody got the idea that if wet macular degeneration is due to blood vessel growth, ‘Why don’t we try it on the eye?’ They tried it on the eye and found it stopped the blood vessel growth. It actually reversed some of the damage that was occurring.”
Prior to this discovery, there was no treatment for wet macular degeneration.
For both types of AMD, doctors recommend a vitamin called Lutein. Dr. Soldinger prefers AREDS 2 brand for his patients.
If you think you or someone you love may have AMD, contact your eye doctor right away to set up an appointment.