Macular degeneration is a degenerative eye disorder that is a leading cause of severe vision loss in older people. Typically starting at the age of 50 and increasing in likelihood every year following, macular degeneration can cause irreversible damage, which may result in a patient losing full central forward vision. The disease occurs when the small portion of the retina, called the macula, deteriorates. The retina is the light-sensing nerve tissue located at the rear of the eye that allows the eye to focus and see details. Since this disorder typically develops in older people, it is most commonly referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
There are two forms of AMD, including dry macular degeneration and wet macular degeneration.
Dry macular degeneration is typically caused by the presences of drusen (a white or yellow deposit build-up) in the macula. Smaller deposits of drusen may not cause any change in vision, however as they grow in size, the likelihood of vision being affected increases and people may start noticing dimming and distortions. In the more advanced stages of dry macular degeneration, the thinning of the cells in the macula can lead to atrophy and in extreme cases, tissue death. In these extreme cases, patients can lose their central vision.
Wet macular degeneration is more severe than dry macular degeneration and is often characterized by the growth of blood vessels underneath the macula. This is the body's attempt to try to repair the damage that has been done to the macula. These blood vessels leak blood and fluid into the retina, which causes irreversible damage to the retina and macula, leading to vision distortion and permanent vision loss in the central area of a patient's eyesight.
There are currently no cures for either form of macular degeneration. However, certain treatments do exist which can assist in slowing down or stopping the progression of the disease, making it especially important to diagnose any degenerative eye disorders early on.
The treatments for slowing down or stopping the progression of macular degeneration include the following:
Vitamins: In early stages of dry macular degeneration, vitamin supplements have been shown to slow and in some cases reverse the effects of the disorder. These vitamins typically include large quantities of antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin;
Laser Therapy: Laser treatment has shown promise in destroying growing blood vessels that occur in wet macular degeneration;
Photodynamic Therapy: This kind of treatment involves a light-sensitive drug entering the blood stream and going directly to the eyes, where light activates the drug's ability to damage any abnormal blood vessels; and
Anti-angiogenesis Drugs: This medication is relatively new and is showing promise in preventing new blood vessels from forming. The treatment involves injecting the drug directly into the eye and is repeated monthly or bimonthly.
Researchers are studying other surgeries and treatments which in the future may assist in treating and eventually curing degenerative eye disorders, but for now, the best way to handle these diseases is to be proactive in detecting them early on.