Macular degeneration—also referred to as age-related macular degeneration, ARMD, or AMD—is a degenerative disease that affects a part of the retina called the macula. According to The National Eye Institute, macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among people aged 50 and older. Dry macular degeneration affects 80-90% of people with AMD, according to American Foundation for the Blind. It is a slowly progressing disease. In 10% of AMD cases, the disease will advance to wet macular degeneration—when there is an abnormal growth of the blood vessels under the retina—this type of AMD progresses quickly. Symptoms of macular degeneration include blurry central vision; visual distortions; difficulty with contrast; difficulty adapting to low light levels; decreased intensity of colors; and difficulty reading or recognizing people. Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with macular degeneration? The following methods have been shown to slow the progression of the disease and treat symptoms. Though at this time there are no ways to reverse macular degeneration damage
Researchers at the National Eye Institute (NEI) found that a certain formulation of nutritional supplements called Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) formulation can reduce the risk of developing AMD or slow down the development of AMD. The formulation includes vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and copper. If you have dry macular degeneration supplements may slow the development of the disease.
An implantable telescope is a tiny implantable device about the size of a pea, which magnifies images to improve central vision. The FDA approved this device in July 2010. The device is for people who experience severe vision loss, or “end-stage” macular degeneration. During the clinical trial, 59.5% of people with the telescope prosthesis experienced a doubling of visual acuity even after two years of implantation. The trial showed a substantial improvement in vision after the one-year and two-year marks.
Lucentis is a drug used to treat wet macular degeneration. This drug works by inhibiting the growth of new blood vessels. The drug has shown significant improvement in vision, especially when compared with the previous treatments for wet macular degeneration. It is administered through monthly injections into the eye.
Macugen is another drug with antiproliferative effects. This drug works similarly to Lucentis. It attacks vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) — the proteins which cause the blood vessels to grow. Studies show similar results when using this drug, to the drug as mentioned earlier — neither being superior to the other. This drug is also given through an injection into the eye, and it is usually administered every six weeks. Up to 40 percent of patients given this type of treatment experience side effects such as eye floaters and discomfort.
Eylea is another wet macular degeneration treatment. It blocks the activity of VEGF. The FDA approved it in 2011. The recommended dose of Eylea is monthly injections for the first three months. Follow-up injections take place every eight weeks. The actual number and frequency of injections are determined by your physician based on the severity of your condition.
Another injection, Avastin is a cancer therapy drug as an off-label treatment for AMD. The benefit of Avastin is the cost— this drug is a lot cheaper than other FDA-approved drugs for the treatment of wet macular degeneration. The National Eye Institute (NEI) compared Lucentis and Avastin in the treatment of wet macular degeneration and found that the drugs were equivalent in treating AMD.
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
Photodynamic therapy includes the use of a drug called Visudyne. Visudyne is injected into the arm. It is only used in a specific type of AMD called “predominantly classic subfoveal AMD,” when blood vessel growth under the retina is well defined. The light activates Visudyne, so the doctor uses a low-intensity laser aimed at the retina for a minute following injection. Now that there are FDA-approved drugs that block the VEGF protein, PDT is rarely used. This type of therapy helps to stop the progression of the disease and to stabilize vision, but it cannot reverse the damage.
Laser surgery is only an option for a very small number of people with wet macular degeneration. During this surgery, a laser destroys abnormal blood vessels. This type of surgery can stop the degeneration of the macula but may leave the patient with a permanent blind spot. Surgery is usually only done once. However, if there is a future growth of blood vessels additional surgery may have to take place.
Preventing Macular Degeneration
As with any disease, the best treatment for AMD is prevention. Research shows that foods rich in vitamins C and E; antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin; and minerals zinc and copper provide the eyes with protection against free radicals and toxic agents which lead to cancer and other diseases— like macular degeneration. Other nutrients which lead to good eye health include beta-carotene—a precursor to vitamin A—and omega-three fatty acids. Eat a diet rich in dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, collard greens, etc.), orange fruits and vegetables, fatty fish (like salmon, sardines, and mackerel), nuts, and whole grains to prevent degenerative eye disease. People who smoke, are overweight, or have cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure are at greater risk of developing AMD. Living a healthy lifestyle is the best way to prevent diseases and inflammatory conditions in the long run.