Visual impairment or legal blindness affects approximately 3% of the U.S. population over the age of 40, or a total of 4.2 million people. The most common cause of vision loss in this age-group is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), accounting for approximately 54% of cases. With increasing age, the prevalence of vision loss climbs to over 6% among Caucasians over the age of 85. AMD has two forms: Dry (non-exudative) or Wet (exudative). Even though the wet form only represents 10-15% of cases of AMD, it accounts for the majority of cases of significant vision loss. In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow (neovascularization) into the retina and are prone to leak and bleed, causing scarring and permanent loss of central vision.
This all sounds like bad news for seniors, but in fact, there is a lot to be thankful for in the treatment of wet AMD.
Not your parents’ disease. If you ever had a parent or relative being treated for wet AMD in the past, unfortunately the disease often robbed patients of their central vision despite laser and other treatments. Thankfully, the treatment of wet AMD has improved substantially in the last 15 years and there are 3 injectable drugs currently used with good success. If a patient experiences new blurry or distorted vision from wet AMD, the current treatments can stabilize vision in 95% of patients and improve vision in 30-40% of patients.
Area of active research. Despite the improvement in treatment for wet AMD, there is no cure for the disease, and the current injection treatments often need to be continued for life. As a result, treatments that last longer and require fewer injections are being studied. In addition, eye drops, pills and other less invasive treatments are being investigated. A cure for this disease lies in the promise of stem cell or gene therapy. If either one of these treatments prove effective, then far fewer people will have to suffer from age-related vision impairment.
It is recommended that people over the age of 65 (even without any risk factors or symptoms) have an annual eye exam. If you have AMD, your eye doctor may send you to a retinal specialist who can evaluate and develop a treatment plan that is right for you as well as determine whether you qualify to participate in any new clinical research trials.
Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Dr. Patrick Coady of New England Retina Associates. He may be reached at 800-228-0843.