Macular Degeneration Treatment
There are two different types of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). These are categorised as dry and wet.
Currently, there is no treatment available for dry age-related macular degeneration. However there are treatment options for wet age-related macular degeneration, which is the most aggressive form of the disease.
Treatment for wet AMD is most commonly delivered in the form of regular injections to the eye with a very fine needle. These are called intravitreal injections. Treatment may improve vision, however it does not cure AMD. Diet and lifestyle changes may help to slow down the disease.
Read below to learn more about the macula, causes of AMD, symptoms and FAQs.
Causes of macular degeneration
Macular degeneration affects 1 in 7 Australians over the age of fifty and the incidence increases with age.
It is hereditary, with a fifty-percent chance of developing macular degeneration if a family history of the disease is present. It's caused by genetic and environmental factors and risk factors include age, family history, smoking, diet and lifestyle.
Symptoms of macular degeneration
Key symptoms can include one or more of the following:
These symptoms should not be dismissed as part of just getting older. Remember, the earlier the treatment is sought, the greater likelihood of a better outcome compared to those who wait.
What happens in age-related macular degeneration?
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is not a natural consequence of ageing. It is a disease that affects a special layer of cells in the eye called the retinal pigment epithelium. This is like a wall that separates the retina from its main blood supply, a vascular layer called the choroid. The major role of the retinal pigment epithelium is to nourish the retina and get rid of waste products. It also acts as a barrier between the choroid and the retina.
Early stage AMD
As age-related macular degeneration progresses, waste products from the retina build up underneath the retina pigment epithelium. When your ophthalmologist looks at the back of the eye, they may see these deposits as yellows spots called drusen. These early signs do not necessarily cause visual symptoms. However, they do increase the chance of vision loss.
Late stage AMD
Loss of vision represents the late stage of the disease and occurs because the retinal pigment epithelium cells die, or because they fail to keep the blood vessels from the choroid out of the retina. When these cells die, the retinal cells above them also die, leading to patches of ‘missing’ retina. This is commonly called geographic atrophy or dry age-related macular degeneration.
Dry age-related macular degeneration is a slow form of the disease causing a gradual loss of vision. It accounts for 33% of all cases of late stage of AMD. Some patients who have dry age-related macular degeneration can later develop the more aggressive wet form.
Wet AMD occurs when the retinal pigment epithelium cells fail to stop choroidal blood vessels from growing into the retina. This growth is called choroidal neovascularisation. The rapidly growing vessels are fragile with leaky walls and they ooze fluid and blood into the retina, leading to scarring and vision loss.
Wet age-related macular degeneration is the most severe form of the disease, with approximately 17,000 new cases diagnosed annually in Australia. Vision changes associated with the wet form are often sudden and severe.
If you experience any sudden change in vision you should see your eye specialist urgently as early detection is crucial. The earlier you seek treatment, the more likely you are to have a better outcome, compared to those who wait.
FAQs about Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration is caused by environmental and genetic factors. The major risk factors include:
- Age - the older you get, the more likely you are to develop AMD
- Family history - if you have a parent or sibling with AMD, you have a 50% risk of getting it as well
- Smoking - smokers are 3-4 times more likely to develop AMD, and to develop the disease earlier than non-smokers.
Things you can do to protect your vision:
- Have regular eye checks, including checking macula health
- Good nutrition with fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, grains, nuts and lean meat
- Dark green leafy vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids contain important antioxidants for eye health
- Regular exercise