What is Macular Degeneration?
Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of visual loss in people over the age of 50 in the United States. Macular degeneration is a very broad spectrum of disease that can range from not affecting an individual's vision at all, to a severely debilitating disease with central visual loss in both eyes. AMD is classified as exudative (wet) AMD and non-exudative (dry) AMD. Dry AMD often has less visual loss than wet AMD. Macular degeneration primarily involves the central portion of the retinal known as the macula. The layer underneath the retina, called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is where most of the damage occurs. In dry AMD this layer of RPE get abnormal deposits called drusen or becomes atrophic. In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow and damage the RPE and the overlying retina resulting in severe visual loss.
How is Macular Degeneration Diagnosed?
Age related macular degeneration is diagnosed first by a comprehensive dilated eye examination. Dilation of the eyes is necessary to get a complete view of the retina. Additional testing involving fluorescein angiography may be used if the wet form of macular degeneration is suspected. In a fluorescein angiogram, a small amount of vegetable based dye is injected into a vein in the arm. As the dye circulates to the eye, photographs are taken and abnormal leakage of the dye can be recorded. This leakage of fluorescein dye is used to pinpoint the areas of abnormal blood vessels.
What is the Treatment for Macular Degeneration?
Dry macular degeneration requires no treatment and most often people with dry AMD have good functional reading and driving vision. Wet macular degeneration requires prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Cutting edge treatment options include photodynamic therapy and macular translocation. In macular photodynamic therapy, selective laser treatment to the abnormal blood vessels is done with minimal damage to the adjacent retina. Also available is surgical macular translocation. With this state of the art surgery the retina is surgically moved away from the underlying diseased layer and over to the healthier retinal pigment epithelium.
Even those with severe visual loss from macular degeneration can be helped. In conjunction with the Eye Foundation of Kansas City's Visual Independence Program, many people are taught techniques to better use their remaining vision and regain fuller, more functional lives.
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