Tuesday, February 7, 2012

So What Exactly IS Macular Degeneration?


So What Exactly IS Macular Degeneration?

Top: Normal Vision Bottom: Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is a serious and debilitating disease affecting millions of adults typically over the age of 50. It results in the permanent damage of an area of the retina that is responsible for the center of the visual field, often making it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces, yet usually leaving enough peripheral vision to allow other activities of daily life. There are two forms: the “dry” form where cellular debris forms in the retina typically slowly causing damage; and the “wet” form where new growing blood vessels essentially cause damage much more quickly.
What are the risk factors for developing Macular Degeneration?
Number one is age. The macula of the eyes simply ages and begins to wear out. Those with a family history or macular degeneration have a 50% chance of developing the disease later in life. Other important factors are high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, simply being of caucasian descent, exposure to sunlight, and smoking.
OCT Image of Wet Macular Degeneration
What can I do to reduce my risk of developing Macular Degeneration?
Leading a healthy lifestyle is obviously the most important. Eating lots of leafy greens and foods containing lutein and zeaxanthin, two compounds found in the macula, has been clinically proven to slow the progression or development of the disease. Many over-the-counter vitamin supplements are available with these compounds based on the AREDS, or Age Related Eye Disease Study. My doctors recommend this formula for all of our patients that have an early form or show high risk of developing the disease.
Annual eye exams are of importance as this is the only way the condition of the macula may be assessed. I closely monitor the appearance of the macula and may recommend the use of our Zeavision testing unit. This specialized instrument measures the levels of Macular Pigment Optical Density (MPOD) in the back of the eye, essentially giving us another big “piece of the puzzle” in the early detection process.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” — Benjamin Franklin
If you or a loved one have been told there are early warning signs of Macular Degeneration and it has been more than year since the last eye exam, get in to see your eye doctor soon! The earlier we identify the disease, the more we can do. And modern medicine now has some promising treatments, and many new exciting ones presently in FDA trials.
Photo of an affected Retina
So I know someone with Macular Degeneration, what’s the cure?
Unfortunately there is no cure, but there is treatment and management. The dry form is managed with the AREDS supplement and we watch the progression very closely, making sure the wet form does not start to form. If it does, then we work closely with a Retinal Specialist that typically administers injections of medicine into the eyes (believe it or not this is relatively painless) that stops the new blood vessels from growing. Until about 5 years ago, we could only slow down vision loss in “wet” patients. Today, most of these patients actually regain some of their vision!
But remember, even with treatment, vision will never be restored to the way it was before the disease, thus preventative care is always the best course of action! 
(This is an excerpt from our Quarterly Newsletter. Dr. Andrew Neukirch practices at Carillon Vision Care in Glenview, Illinois)

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