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Macular Degeneration: New Therapy May Stop or Reverse Vision Loss

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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a debilitating disease that severely limits the lives of sufferers. Since it affects central vision and reduces the ability to see objects sharply and clearly, it can reduce one’s ability to do everyday things like drive a car, watch TV or read a book, or see the faces of loved ones. It’s the most common cause of vision loss in the United States, affecting as many as 10 million Americans.

While it’s currently considered an incurable disease, advances in therapy are helping to slow—and sometimes reverse—the vision loss that accompanies certain forms of AMD. The treatment is called anti-VEGF therapy, a quick and relatively painless injection that combats the most devastating form of the disease.

“We’ve seen patients in the legally blind range return to normal or near normal vision with anti-VEGF therapy,” said Daniel V. Will, MD, an ophthalmologist specializing in macular degeneration treatment and retina surgery at Abington-Jefferson Health. “As with many diseases, early detection of AMD is paramount for successful treatment.”

The Macula and the Retina

The macula is part of the retina, the light sensitive cells at the back of the eye that pass impulses along the optic nerve to the brain. Your brain interprets these impulses as images, which is how you see the world around you. When the macula is damaged, you can still see things in your peripheral vision, but not in your central vision.

Two Types of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry AMD is the most common form of the disease, affecting about eight out of ten people who have macular degeneration. It typically happens when the retina starts to thin with aging.

“While there is no cure for dry AMD, certain lifestyle choices can help,” said Dr. Will. “Taking vitamins, eating fewer processed meals, and consuming more fish and foods rich in antioxidants have been shown to help.”

Treatment for Wet AMD

Wet AMD is less common than dry AMD, but generally more aggressive — leading to vision loss more quickly. For this reason, recognizing the symptoms early is important so treatment can be given when it will be most effective. Wet AMD can cause visual distortions, such as straight lines looking bent, blurry spots, hazy vision, reduced central vision, and decreased intensity of bright colors.

Wet AMD happens when abnormal blood vessels behind the macula grow and leak fluid or blood, interfering with vision. Anti-VEGF therapy can help stop and reverse the growth of these blood vessels.

How the Injections Work

The anti-VEGF injections work by targeting a group of proteins in the body called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). These proteins signal blood vessels, like the ones that cause the problem in wet AMD, to grow. By inhibiting this growth, the anti-VEGF injections help the macula return to normal, restoring vision.

“When people hear about getting an injection in the eye, it admittedly sounds horrible,” said Dr. Will. “However, the reality is that most patients experience very little discomfort when getting what amounts to a miracle drug that helps to restore their vision.”

If you or a loved one experience any vision changes, talk to your doctor right away. Early detection is critical, since wet AMD involves scarring that cannot be reversed. When caught early before significant scarring has occurred, patients typically have more satisfactory results with anti-VEGF treatment.

For a referral to an Abington - Jefferson Health physician, please call 215-481-MEDI (6334) or search our online directory.

Page last reviewed: September 28, 2017
Page last updated: September 28, 2017

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