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Understanding Macular Degeneration: Diagnosis and Treatment

Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million Americans. Dr. Stephen Godlewski offers both preventive measures and treatment for macular degeneration at his Snellville, GA, practice. Through a combination of medication, surgery, and coordination with specialists at the local hospital, Dr. Godlewski can help slow and even halt the disease’s progress.

Macular degeneration is a progressive disease which causes a loss of central vision.

Macular degeneration is typically an age-related condition caused by the deterioration of the central part of the retina. The retina is the internal layer at the back of the eye. This area is responsible for capturing the images you see and sending the information from the eye to the brain via the optic nerve. 

Macular degeneration is usually categorized as dry or wet. The dry, or atrophic, type is more common, affecting 85 to 90 percent of patients. The wet, or exudative, type is rarer. These types are generally found in older patients. In young sufferers, macular degeneration is typically caused by Stargardt disease, which is inherited through a recessive gene. 

The biggest risk factor for macular degeneration is age, meaning as you become older, your risk naturally increases. The disease is most likely to occur in individuals 55 years and older.

Other risk factors include:

  • Genetics: Those with a family history of this disease are at a higher risk.

  • Gender: Women are more often affected than men. 

  • Smoking: Smoking doubles the risk of this condition.

  • Race: The occurrence of macular degeneration is higher in Caucasians than in African Americans or Latinos.

The specific causes of macular degeneration are not well understood. However, it is clear that both genetics and environment factor into individual susceptibility. 

Macular degeneration is typically characterized by slow, painless loss of vision, though in rare cases, vision loss can be sudden. Early signs include shadowy areas in your central vision or unusually fuzzy or distorted images. Regular retinal exams can detect early signs of macular degeneration before symptoms occur, increasing your chances of preventing vision loss. If Dr. Godlewski suspects your eyes have become affected by this disease, he can order further tests. 

The only way to effectively diagnose macular degeneration is through a comprehensive eye exam. Your eye exam may include:

  • Visual acuity test to measure how well you see at distances

  • Dilated eye exam to provide a better view of the back of your eye

  • Amsler grid to detect changes in your central vision

  • Fluorescein angiogram to show any leaking blood vessels

  • Optical coherence tomography scans to create high-resolution images of your eyes

During the exam, Dr. Godlewski will look for drusen, or yellow deposits beneath the retina. Another sign is any change in the pigment under the retina. Through these tests, he may be able to detect degeneration before you present any symptoms and implement a treatment plan to slow or even stop the disease. 

Although there is currently no cure for macular degeneration, there are available treatments to protect your vision and maintain your quality of life.

While there is no known cure for macular degeneration, there are methods for reducing your risk and slowing the progression of the disease once you have been diagnosed. Your treatment plan will depend on what form of the disease you have and how far it has progressed. Recommendations may include:

  • Medications: There are a few medications approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) which are designed to stop abnormal blood vessel growth. Some are shown to even improve patients' vision.

  • Lifestyle Changes: Certain healthy habits have been shown to reduce your risk for macular degeneration. Your doctor may recommend modifications to your diet and exercise, avoiding smoking, and protecting your eyes from ultraviolet light.

  • Implantable Miniature Telescope (IMT): This FDA-approved device can be useful for individuals with advanced degeneration. During a surgical procedure, a tiny telescope is used to replace the natural lens of one eye. After the procedure, patients will require extensive vision rehabilitation. 

Low-vision devices and vision rehabilitation can be used to make the most of your remaining sight and help you maintain your independence. Vision rehabilitation programs offer a wide range of services and are often covered by Medicare. Low-vision devices include reading glasses with high-powered lenses, handheld magnifiers, video magnifiers, and other tools. 

Although macular degeneration does not have a cure, there are ways to protect your vision and maintain your quality of life. Ongoing research is also showing promising new methods of treating the disease, and Dr. Godlewski works actively to remain abreast of these advancements. Contact us online or call (770) 979-1144 to discuss how our practice can meet your needs.