Age-Related Vision Loss: Help Is Available

Some patients are experiencing improved vision after treatment
picture of blue eye

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of severe vision loss in adults over age 60. Several treatments are now available to help slow or stop the disease’s progress, with some patients even getting improved vision after treatment. 

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A recent national study led by Cleveland Clinic, compared two drugs side by side.

What is AMD?

AMD occurs when the small central portion of the retina, known as the macula, is damaged. The retina is the light-sensing nerve tissue at the back of the eye and the macula is the part of the retina that provides clear central vision.

There are two types of AMD, the “wet” form and the “dry” form:

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  • Wet AMD. In the wet form, unwanted blood vessels grow under the macula, and leak blood and fluid into the eye. The damage this causes can limit a person’s ability to read, drive or recognize faces. Only about 10 percent of patients with AMD have this wet form.
  • Dry AMD. Many more patients get the dry form, in which yellow deposits called drusen develop on the macula. Drusen generally do not damage vision, and are not usually treated. However, they should be watched to make sure they are not getting worse. “Some patients with the dry form develop thinning or atrophy of the macula,” cautions Cole Eye Institute retina specialist Andrew Schachat, MD. “If this happens, it can reduce central vision.”

Treatments for wet AMD

Several treatments can help manage wet AMD. Cleveland Clinic is a leader in studying  medications known as anti-angiogenesis drugs. A national study led by Cole Eye Institute Chairman Daniel F. Martin, MD, compared the two main drugs in this category, ranibizumab (Lucentis) and bevacizumab (Avastin).

The study — known as CATT, for  Comparison of Age-Related Macular Degeneration Treatment Trials — was conducted at 44 centers across the country. This landmark study has shown that these injectable drugs are effective. It has also provided information about the best timing for giving them.

Other treatments for wet AMD include:

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  • Laser therapy, in which high-energy lights are used to destroy abnormal blood vessels
  • Photodynamic laser therapy, in which a light-sensitive drug is used with a laser to damage abnormal blood vessels  
  • A new drug for wet AMD called aflibercept (Eylea). Similar to the injectable drugs ranibizumab and bevacizumab, it was FDA-approved at the end of 2011, says Dr. Schachat. “The results appear to be comparable to ranibizumab, although fewer visits and/or treatments may be needed,” he says.

Patients who have lost a lot of vision may be helped by using low vision aids, devices that produce enlarged images of nearby objects. Also, certain vitamin combinations can slow dry and wet AMD. Ask your eye doctor if these are right for you.

 

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