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What you Need to Know about Macular Degeneration and Glaucoma

separator Macular degeneration and glaucoma are two common eye diseases. Here are some quick facts about these two conditions.

Macular degeneration: an age-related disease
Macular degeneration (MD) is associated with aging. It gradually destroys your sharp, central vision, until eventually only your peripheral vision is left. “If you hold up a dime in front of your eye, that’s how you see when you have macular degeneration,” explains Margie Schmidt, Communications Manager for the Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis.

The macula is a tiny area in the center of the eye’s retina. Millions of light-sensing cells in the macula help produce central vision.

Two types of MD
There’s what’s called “dry” MD, which accounts for about 90 percent of MD cases, and “wet” MD. Researchers believe that in dry MD, part of the retina becomes diseased, which causes a gradual breakdown of the light-sensing cells in the macula. As dry MD becomes worse, it may also become wet MD. New blood vessels may grow and leak blood and fluid under the macula. This causes a more rapid loss of vision.

Who’s at risk?
Being older than age 60 puts you at higher risk. Additionally, women get MD more often than men, Caucasian people are more likely to lose vision from MD than African-Americans and people with immediate family who have MD are at higher risk. Smoking may also increase the risk.

What’s the treatment?
There’s currently no treatment for MD, but many researchers believe that taking antioxidant vitamins can slow the progression. But if you have macular degeneration, there are a lot of ways occupational therapists can work with you to help you use the vision you do have. For example, “There are telescopes you can wear to help your vision,” says Margie Schmidt. “Occupational therapists can help you continue with a hobby, like knitting or crocheting. They can help you remain independent.”

Glaucoma: African-Americans at greatest risk
Glaucoma occurs when the normal fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly increases. This buildup of pressure causes damage to the optic nerve, and eventually can cause blindness. About 3 million people in the U.S. have glaucoma. It’s a leading cause of blindness in this country.

Who’s at risk?
People most at risk include:
  • African Americans older than 40
  • All people older than 60
  • People who have a family history of the disease

Glaucoma hits African Americans particularly hard. According to the National Eye Institute, glaucoma is

  • Five times more likely to occur in African Americans than Caucasians
  • Four times more likely to cause blindness in African Americans
  • Fifteen times more likely to cause blindness in African Americans ages 45-64 than in Caucasians of the same age

What are the symptoms?
There are no symptoms in the early stages of glaucoma. But eventually the side vision fails. The field of vision gets narrower and narrower, gradually causing blindness.

Treatment usually can control glaucoma
It’s extremely important to go to an eye doctor regularly to be tested for glaucoma. Testing is painless. Glaucoma is usually detected by putting drops in the eyes to dilate the pupils. This allows the eye doctor to see more of the inside of the eye.

If you have glaucoma, there are several treatment options:

Medication: These can be either drops or pills, and you generally have to take them every day. For many people, medication is enough to keep glaucoma under control. For some, over time, the medication becomes less effective. That’s when surgical options may be necessary.

Laser surgery: A strong beam of light makes changes in the eye that make it easier for fluid to escape. The effects of laser surgery may wear off over time. Additionally, you may need to continue taking your glaucoma medication.

Surgery: For patients whose glaucoma doesn’t stay under control with medication or laser surgery, another surgical option is available. It allows fluid to escape from the eye, reducing pressure.

National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health
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