The Importance of Early Detection and Follow-Up Care for Macular Degeneration

October 1st, 2018
doctor consulting young patient

Whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration, regular eye exams are the best way to stay ahead of the disease.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects millions of people around the world and is one of the leading causes of central vision blindness. Even though older people are at the greatest risk, the disease can affect anyone, so it pays to be vigilant.

Here’s what you need to know about macular degeneration and about the importance of regular professional eye care in identifying and managing its symptoms.

What is Macular Degeneration?

The macula, the most sensitive part of the retina, is a structure in the back of the eye with millions of light-sensing cells that are critical to sharp vision. After the macula receives an image, it translates the image into electrical signals that are sent to the brain.

As we age, yellow deposits called drusen sometimes collect on the macula. Almost everyone develops small amounts of drusen with age, but moderate to large amounts of drusen often indicate the beginnings of macular degeneration.

Initially, the deposits of drusen don’t cause noticeable visual deficits. But AMD is progressive, meaning that if you don’t do anything about it, it’ll keep getting worse and worse. That’s one reason why it’s important to get regular eye exams: your doctor can catch AMD, even if you can’t. That means you can begin getting treated early on, slowing or preventing further degeneration.

Treatment Options for Age-Related Macular Degeneration

If your doctor finds evidence of AMD, she will likely recommend that you take a set of supplements. These typically include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, copper, zinc, and beta-carotene. That specific combination has been shown to reduce the risk of developing severe AMD by about 25%.

In addition to the more common form of AMD that’s caused by drusen deposits, there’s a more severe variety of the condition known as neovascular age-related macular degeneration (nAMD). This condition results from the growth of new blood vessels that obscure the macula and interfere with its ability to interpret images. Because these new blood vessels are prone to swell, rupture and release fluid, they can even further impair macular function.

To combat nAMD, patients can either be given injections of a medication that deactivates the hormone that’s causing new blood vessels to be formed, or they can undergo photodynamic therapy, which uses lasers to destroy leaking blood vessels in the retina. These procedures are administered over several sessions by a professional, which makes consistent follow-up extremely important.

The Importance of Following Up

In a recent study, scientists showed that about 20% of patients with nAMD were lost to follow-up over a five-year period, which means that they received an injection but then didn’t see the eye doctor for at least another year. These patients were at greater risk of not seeing any benefits from the injections and having their symptoms progress, perhaps all the way to central vision blindness.

If you have concerns about your AMD, or start to experience symptoms, contact ICON Eyecare today for a consultation. Our eye specialists will work with you to determine the best course of treatment.

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