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Macular Degeneration, also known as Age Related Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in the older population of Americans, more than any other eye condition including cataracts and glaucoma. It is more prevalent in Caucasians and females. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and people with lighter eye color. Evidence suggests smoking and side effects from certain drugs can also be risk factors for Macular Degeneration.
There are two types of Macular Degeneration: “dry AMD” or non-neovascular and “wet AMD” or neovascular. Dry AMD makes up 85 to 90 percent of the two types, and wet AMD being 10 to 15 percent.
There are three stages of dry AMD:
Early AMD – There is usually no visual loss in this early stage of AMD. Your eye doctor will see these beginning stages in the back of the eye presented as yellowish deposits beneath the retina known as “Drusen”.
Intermediate AMD – There may or may not be noticeable visual signs or symptoms at this stage; however there will be larger drusen and/or pigment changes in the retina.
Late AMD – There will be noticeable vision loss at this stage.
Early signs of Age Related Macular Degeneration include fuzzy, grayish, shadowy areas in the central vision or distorted images in the central vision.
If your ophthalmologist suspects AMD through a retinal exam, an Amsler grid test may be done to measure your central vision. An Amsler grid consists of a graph of black lines with a reference dot in the center of the graph. Looking at it one eye at a time, a patient might see the lines as wavy or blurry, or may see gray areas in the center of the graph.
Dry AMD can also progress to wet AMD.
Wet Macular Degeneration occurs when new blood vessels form and grow beneath the retina and leak blood and fluid creating scarring, and sometimes severe permanent damage to the retinal cells causing blind spots in the central vision.
There are no cures for wet or dry Macular Degeneration, however there are some treatments that may delay the progression or improve vision, sometimes dramatically.
A healthy nutritious diet and exercise are believed to help prevent the progression of dry AMD to wet AMD.
There are FDA approved drugs that can improve vision in wet AMD that a retina specialist can prescribe and administer for these patients.
Dr. Vicken Karageozian is working on a new drug to improve vision in Dry AMD. If successful, it will be the only one available.