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What is Macular Degeneration? by Dhanu Meleth, M.D.

July 10, 2020

Dr. Dhanu Meleth is an ophthalmologist with the Marietta Eye Clinic who specializes in retina and uveitis.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a chronic disorder that affects the macula, the part of the retina that accounts for central vision. There are two types of macular degeneration: dry and wet. Dry AMD is the result of a thinning macula. Wet AMD, which can only occur to an individual who has already experienced dry AMD, is a result of blood vessels under the retina leaking into the macula. Patients who experience macular degeneration may notice visual distortions, haziness, or reduced central vision. Although wet AMD is less common than dry AMD, it is more likely to result in sudden central vision changes and, in extreme cases, vision loss.

Who is Most at Risk for Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is more common in people over the age of 50. It is also more likely to be found in those who have a family history of the disorder. Smoking, obesity, and cardiovascular disease can increase risk.

Can Macular Degeneration be Prevented?

Although there are no medications that can prevent AMD, certain behaviors have been shown to help prevent accumulation of the condition. Recommendations for managing AMD include:

  • Manage personal medical conditions.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Eat a balanced diet, including antioxidants, which are commonly found in fruits and vegetables. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be particularly helpful in preventing progression of macular degeneration.
  • Exercise regularly.

Macular degeneration commonly occurs progressively, beginning with dry AMD and eventually leading to wet AMD if not managed. If you begin to notice changes in your central vision, as well as your ability to see colors and fine details, don’t hesitate to see an eye doctor.

Dry Macular Degeneration Treatments

There is no clinical treatment for dry AMD. However, it has been determined that patients with severe vision loss as a result of the condition could benefit from a combination of nutritional supplements. In fact, one study found that many patients were able to slow their dry AMD by taking a combination of the following vitamin and mineral supplements, called the AREDS2 formula:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Lutein
  • Zeaxanthin
  • Zinc
  • Copper

If you have been diagnosed with dry AMD, it is important to speak to your ophthalmologist before taking supplements.

Wet Macular Degeneration Treatments

Anti-VEGF drugs are commonly prescribed to treat wet AMD. These drugs have been shown to reduce the leakage from the abnormal blood vessels under the retina. The purpose of these drugs is to hinder the production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein that produces new blood vessels when the body needs them. Anti-VEGF drugs, although useful for treating the side effects of wet AMD, are commonly used when the body produces too much of the VEGF protein and, therefore, abnormal, excess blood vessels.  There are several new drugs and treatment methods on the horizon for macular degeneration which are in various stages of research in clinical trials. Ask your ophthalmologist if you would be eligible for any of these studies, if you are interested.

Another option for patients with wet AMD is laser surgery, which involves an eye surgeon shining a laser on abnormal blood vessels to slow their leakage or erase them entirely.

Protecting and Optimizing Your Vision

Macular degeneration is best treated under the care of a board-certified ophthalmologist. If you are experiencing symptoms of this condition, we urge you to see your ophthalmologist as soon as possible to determine the best course of action to achieve your best vision. Eyesight is fundamental to your quality of life. The single best way to ensure your eyes stay healthy and your vision stays clear is to get routine, preventative care. Many diseases of the eye are hidden to the naked eye and don’t necessarily cause pain or symptoms easily caught on your own. Stay on top of your health for a lifetime of great vision.

More About Retina Specialist Dhanu Meleth, M.D.

Known as Dhanu among his family and friends, Annal Dhananjayan Meleth was born in Kerala, India, but he admits with a chuckle it is difficult to answer the question of where he is from. This world traveler has lived in 26 different places. But most of his life was spent in India, England, Canada, and now the U.S. Dr. Meleth’s education and medical training have taken him on a meandering journey reaching from Québec, Canada, to Alabama, Washington, D.C., Texas, Australia, and now Atlanta, where his family resides. He spends some time every year teaching courses about medical and surgical management of diabetic retinopathy and provides charitable care for patients with advanced diabetic complications in various parts of the world. Read his full bio here. 

References and Additional Resources

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. It describes itself as a “global community of 32,000 medical doctors who protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public.” Its website is a great resource to learn more about how to care for your eyes.

The American Optometric Association (AOA) describes itself as the leading authority on quality care and an advocate for our nation’s health, representing more than 44,000 doctors of optometry (O.D.), optometric professionals, and optometry students. 

Dry macular degeneration

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-macular-degeneration/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350381

How is AMD Diagnosed and Treated?

https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/amd-treatment

Anti-VEGF Treatments

https://www.aao.org/eye-health/drugs/anti-vegf-treatments

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