What Is Macular Degeneration?
Age Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD) is the most common cause of blindness in older patients. ARMD is the term for age spots and bleeding in the macula. The macula is the central focal point of sharp vision inside the back of the eye. About 1/3 of patients over the age of 70 have some degree of macular degeneration.
A vast majority of macular degeneration patients have only mild cases and will keep good reading and driving vision their whole life. Even in the worst cases, macular degeneration never gets so bad that a patient can no longer take care of themselves.
Patients with very bad macular degeneration cannot read or drive but can do almost everything else like watch TV, walk around town, buy groceries, make meals and go to church.
What Are the Types of Macular Degeneration?
There are two forms of ARMD:
- “Wet” macular degeneration means there has been bleeding inside the eye
- “Dry” means there is no bleeding- just spots, dots and patchy areas of visual cell loss
About 10% of macular degeneration patients develop the bleeding, wet form. The wet form is almost always damaging. 98% of patients that have the bleeding “wet” form will become legally blind in that eye.
How Do You Know If You Have ARMD?
Usually the first sign of bleeding in the macula is bending of straight lines or fuzzy or dark spots near the center of vision. It is very important to check your vision every day, one eye at a time, looking for bending or distortion of vision.
What to Do If You Are Experiencing ARMD Symptoms
The key to keeping good vision is to catch the bleeding early so that treatment can begin before vision is lost permanently. If you see bending, kinks in straight lines or blurred spots that don’t move away, go see an eye doctor as soon as possible. It is not helpful to go to the ER because they do not have the right equipment to diagnose ARMD.
What Are the Treatment Options?
The good news is that for the past 15 years, doctors have had a very successful treatment for wet ARMD. Monthly injections in the eye stop the bleeding and keep 95% of patients from worsening. The injections do not hurt at all.
Eye injections for wet ARMD have been almost miraculous. Before injections were a treatment option, over 95% of patients went blind; now over 95% do very well if the bleeding is stopped early.
There is no good treatment option for dry macular degeneration. A very specific combination of vitamins has been shown to decrease the risk of worsening by 20%. The choice of vitamins is important. Many, perhaps most, eye vitamin products are of unproven value or even potentially harmful. The pills should have “AREDS 2” printed on the label to be of proven value.
What Are the Causes of ARMD?
Risk factors for worsening of macular degeneration include family history and smoking. Using your eyes can never harm them. It is okay to read, be on a computer, watch TV and work in dim light or in bright sunlight for prolonged periods of time.
Remember: check your vision, one eye at time, every day.