What you should know about this eye problem

What you should know about this eye problem

It’s subtle, not easily detectable, and it’s the leading cause of irreversible blindness and visual impairment in the world.

Age-related macular degeneration affects about 11 million people in the U.S. and is the leading cause of severe vision loss in one or both eyes in people over age 50.

While age is the main risk factor, there are other risk factors that include positive family history, cigarette smoking, farsightedness, light iris color, hypertension, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. It also tends to be more prevalent in women than men.

According to Dr. Scott Kenitz, an optometrist with Aurora Health Center in Hartford, WI, there are two types age-related macular degeneration, dry and wet.

“Dry is quite common as about 80% of people who have age-related macular degeneration have the dry form,” says Dr. Kenitz. “In this case, you slowly lose central vision. While there are no treatments for the dry form, there is some evidence of actions that can be taken to help prevent or slow progression.”

Preventative steps include:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat plenty of dark, leafy green vegetables, such as raw spinach. Eat fish or take a fish oil supplement. Eat fruit and nuts daily. Limit your daily intake of high glycemic foods.
  • Take a daily multivitamin, unless your doctor advises otherwise.
  • Exercise daily and maintain a healthy weight. Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under good control.
  • Wear sunglasses to block UV light and schedule regular eye exams.

If you already have the dry form, Dr. Kenitz recommends talking to your eye doctor about specific “eye vitamins” that have been shown to slow progression. He also said there is research on the horizon that may be beneficial for patients with advanced dry age-related macular degeneration. An oral antibiotic known as doxycycline is being tested as a treatment for dry age-related macular degeneration. It has anti-inflammatory properties that may be beneficial.

“The drug is in phase three trials and may be on the market as early as 2021,’’ he adds. “Some patients in earlier studies experienced side effects which included rashes, sensitivity to sunlight and stomach upset.”

Dr. Kenitz says that metformin, a popular diabetes treatment, is also being tested for dry age-related macular degeneration. In one long-term study, patients who took the drug were less likely than others to develop age-related macular degeneration.

As for wet age-related macular degeneration, Dr. Kenitz says this form is less common, however, it is much more serious and causes vision to be lost faster than the dry form.

“Wet age-related macular degeneration occurs when new, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina,’’ he explains. “These vessels may leak blood or other fluids, causing scarring of the macula, which is the oval yellowish area near the center of the retina and the region responsible for providing our sharpest vision.”

According to Dr. Kenitz, to help treat wet age-related macular degeneration, there are injectable medications called anti-VEGF drugs. Anti-VEGF treatment helps reduce the number of abnormal blood vessels in your retina. It also slows any leaking from blood vessels.

“The good news is that more durable therapies are coming out and treatments that may eventually cure the disease are in the works,’’ he says. “There’s hope for people with age-related macular degeneration.”

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About the Author

Andy Johnson
Andy Johnson

Andy Johnson, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. He’s been with Advocate Aurora since 2000 serving in various internal and external communication roles. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for the Journal Times and Burlington Standard Press. He enjoys kayaking, biking, and camping but most of all, spending time with his family.