Macular degeneration is one of the most common causes of blindness among people over the age of 65. You are more likely to develop macular degeneration if you have a family history of the disease, are a smoker or live with a smoker, or were exposed to a lot of sunlight when you were young.
There are two types of macular degeneration – “dry” macular degeneration and “wet” macular degeneration.
Dry macular degeneration causes blurred or reduced central vision due to a thinning of the macula. The macula is responsible for activities such as reading, driving and the recognition of faces. Dry macular degeneration progresses gradually over several years, but if left untreated can lead to a loss of your ability to do these activities.
Wet macular degeneration develops in approximately 5 to 20 percent of patients with dry macular degeneration. You cannot develop wet macular degeneration without having dry macular degeneration first. Wet macular degeneration occurs when the eye grows new, abnormal blood vessels in an attempt to provide oxygen to the damaged macula. These abnormal vessels leak fluid or blood into the macula – this why it is called “wet” macular degeneration. Wet macular degeneration develops quickly, over a few weeks to several months. Left untreated, a scar can form around the blood vessels and cause permanent damage to your central vision.
Symptoms of macular degeneration
Macular degeneration affects the middle part of your vision. It can affect one eye or both. Symptoms include:
- straight lines appearing wavy or crooked
- seeing things that aren’t there
- objects looking smaller than they normally do
- colours seeming less bright than usual
- difficulty reading, driving, watching TV or recognising faces
If you have any of these symptoms it’s important to see your eye doctor as soon as possible, so they can make a diagnosis and you can begin treatment if necessary.
Diagnosis of macular degeneration
When you come to the clinic for an examination our staff will test your vision and take photographs of your eye using several machines. After this screening, your doctor will talk to you about your diagnosis and the best course of treatment. They will show you digital images of your eye so you can better understand what is happening and how we can help to preserve your vision.
Treatment of macular degeneration
The type of macular degeneration treatment you require will depend on if you have dry or wet macular degeneration, and the severity of your condition. There is no cure for macular degeneration, but there are things we can do to slow the progression of the disease.
Treatment for dry macular degeneration
Two major studies have shown that patients with intermediate to advanced dry macular degeneration may benefit from taking antioxidant vitamins. Based on these studies it is recommended that you take a supplement containing:
- 500 mg of vitamin C
- 400 international units of vitamin E
- 80 mg of zinc
- 2 mg of copper
- 10 mg of lutein
- 2 mg of zeaxanthin
If you have moderate to severe dry macular degeneration, this combination of vitamins may help to keep your vision from worsening.
Treatment for wet macular degeneration
Wet macular degeneration can be treated with regular anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) injections to the back of the eye. Anti-VEGF injections stop vision loss from getting worse. In some cases they improve vision.
All of our doctors are trained to give these injections, which are given under local anaesthetic in either our clinic or in hospital. Anti-VEGF injections need to be done regularly, as the effects of the medication wear off over time. The injections are generally not painful, but you may feel pressure around the eye. Anti-VEGF medications immediately freeze vision loss in 98 percent of patients. Without treatment, wet macular degeneration can cause permanent central vision loss.
Macular degeneration requires long-term care. It’s important you have a doctor you can relate to and talk with openly. At Eye Specialists we will support you at every stage of your eye disease, from diagnosis to treatment and aftercare. We hope you will always come to us with any concerns or questions you have.