Macular degeneration isn’t a term that many people are familiar with. However, it is a fairly common eye disease, particularly once we reach our senior years, and can affect our vision enough to have an impact on our quality of life. It occurs when the cells of a part of the eye called the macula, found in the center of the retina and responsible for central vision and fine detail, are damaged. This can make normal day to day activities that we take for granted more difficult, including reading, driving, and watching television. Meanwhile, our loss of ability to see fine detail also means that it can start to get tricky to recognize faces.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it could be that you are affected by macular degeneration and you should schedule an appointment with your eye doctor.
Despite there being two types of macular degeneration, there is one variety that is much more common. Here’s what your need to know about the two types of this condition.
‘Wet’ macular degeneration is the rarest form of this condition and gets its name from the fact that the abnormal blood vessels that cause it can leak blood and fluid onto the retina. When this happens, it can damage the retina and cause scarring that will permanently affect your vision. Wet macular degeneration develops suddenly and needs prompt treatment to prevent significant and long-term vision problems.
Around 95% of people with macular degeneration are diagnosed with the ‘dry’ variety of the condition. This doesn’t mean that you experience any dryness, just that there is no bleeding or leaking of fluid into the retina. Dry macular degeneration occurs due to the natural deterioration of the cells of the macula – the patch of light-sensitive cells in the middle of the retina. Dry macular degeneration develops very slowly and subtly, meaning that it is normally detected by attending routine eye exams rather than from developing symptoms and seeking help.
As we know, in most instances, signs of macular degeneration are usually detected at comprehensive eye exams. If your eye doctor suspects that you may have macular degeneration, you will need a number of assessments to confirm the diagnosis.
Dilated eye exam. Eyedrop will be administered which will dilate your pupils so that your eye doctor can look inside your eyes and check the internal structures for any abnormalities. This includes assessing the retina and macula for signs of damage, deterioration, or disease. This is done using a special piece of equipment called an ophthalmoscope, which aims at a bright beam of light into the eye so that the structures can be seen.
Fluorescein angiography. This is a test to detect leaking blood vessels and involves a small amount of fluorescent dye being injected into your bloodstream so that it can be traced. When your eye doctor looks into your eyes, if they can see traces of dry, they will know that your blood vessels are leaking.
Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT). OCT is cutting edge imaging technology that produces cross-sectional images of the retina in order for your eye doctor to see the different layers of your eye. This is important because the OCT image can reveal areas of the macula that are thinning and deteriorating, which are classic signs of macular degeneration.
Pressure testing. Your eye doctor will want to measure the level of pressure inside your eyes. This is known as tonometry and you will be given a numbing eye drop before this test.
Your eye doctor will use these tests, and potentially others, to confirm a diagnosis of macular degeneration, after which they will talk to you about how you move forward with your condition.
One of the biggest challenges of macular degeneration is that there is currently no effective treatment for the most common variety of the condition – dry macular degeneration. Many of the cells in our body naturally deteriorate with age and there is nothing much that we can do to prevent this. Since there is no treatment available, your eye doctor will help you by finding ways to live with macular degeneration and limiting its impact on your life. Some of the recommendations that they may make could include:
Your eye doctor will be happy to help you find the most effective solution for you.
Wet macular degeneration is a little different since it is caused by leaking blood vessels rather than cell deterioration. This means that it can be treated, and this should be done promptly to prevent damage to the eyes and your vision. The most common treatment for wet macular degeneration is injections of a medication known as anti-VGEF’s, which are around 90% effective at halting further vision loss. Anti-VGEF’s are administered directly into the eyes, following a dose of a topical anesthetic to ensure that the injections don’t cause you unnecessary discomfort. If enough improvement isn’t achieved using injections, patients may need photodynamic therapy too. This is a specialist light treatment that is designed to destroy the abnormal blood vessels so that they can no longer leak onto the retina.
If you would like to find out more about diagnosing and treating macular degeneration, don’t hesitate to call our knowledgeable team at (763) 296-2600 (Plymouth, MN) or (763) 296-2700 (Elk River, MN).