Focus on Macular Degeneration
New Injection Can Reverse Vision Damage
Ten years ago on a Saturday morning, Doris Birch woke up to eyes that “felt kind of funny. Things were a bit out of focus,” the Kent Island resident said. She and her husband immediately began to search for an ophthalmologist.
David R. Watt, M.D., an ophthalmologist fellowship-trained in retinal surgery, saw Mrs. Birch in his Annapolis office and conducted a retinal angiogram, a diagnostic imaging study that looks at blood vessels in the eye. He diagnosed his new patient with wet macular degeneration.
“Picture the retina’s supportive layer as the foundation of a home,” said Dr. Watt. “Over time, that foundation cracks. In the case of an average patient, that cracking is dry macular degeneration. When the foundation cracks, water and harmful elements can come in and further damage the home. For a patient, the water is blood and other fluid, and the retina is damaged. When Mrs. Birch came to us the foundation in her right eye was damaged, and blood was evident.”
Patients with macular degeneration begin losing their central eyesight. Sharp focus is replaced by blurry central images surrounded by normal peripheral vision. Straight lines can appear wavy or bent. Quality of life can be severely affected. “I couldn’t drive or read the newspaper,” says Mrs. Birch. “I couldn’t focus on the crossword puzzle or drive my husband and me to Bethany Beach.”
Dr. David Watt recommends that adults 40 and over have regular eye examinations with an ophthalmologist. “Routine eye exams are crucial for identifying the onset of macular degeneration,” he said.
Although there is no cure for macular degeneration, medical therapies can stabilize and even improve vision for some patients. Initially, in Mrs. Birch’s case, laser therapy was used to seal leaking blood vessels. It is not uncommon for new blood vessels to form and break, however, allowing the condition to return. “Laser therapy was wonderful for me and, for five years, there was no more sign of trouble,” she says. “But five years later, I noticed the issue was coming back, so I went back to Dr. Watt.”
By the time the condition had returned to the eyes of Doris Birch, a new drug treatment called Lucentis was available. Lucentis is an injection, delivered directly to an anesthesized eye, which hinders growth of abnormal blood vessels. The treatment also can stop and even reverse the damage caused by harmful materials interacting with the retina.
“Many patients have fantastic results with such treatment,” said Dr. Watt. “Mrs. Birch was able to have her vision not only stabilized, but improved.”
“I’m able to drive again and can read all I want,” Mrs. Birch said. Her quality of life has returned, and trips to the beach are no longer harrowing. “I’d recommend my course of treatment to anyone. I can go to the ophthalmologist now and just about read all the lines. I’m 78 years old, and can see better than some people 10 years younger!”
To schedule an appointment with one of AAMC’s ophthalmologists, call the nurses at askAAMC, at 443-481-4000.
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