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Ask an Expert about Macular Degeneration

Latest Questions and Answers
Where can I find more information about macular degeneration? [ 08/30/13 ]

The BrightFocus Macular Degeneration Research website goes into greater depth on many of the above topics and covers additional areas of concern, both medical and social. You can learn where to get help and access to resources, as well as download free publications. And explore our Ask an Expert section where you can read or post queries to doctors.

Visit www.childrenscorner.org for information for all members of the family, with stories, games, and other interactive learning tools.

For more information dealing with the topics below, please visit the helpful organizations section of our website. 

  • Clinical Trials
  • Organizations of Eye-care Professionals
  • Federal Government Programs and Services
  • General Information, Resources and Referrals
  • Legal Assistance
  • Low Vision Aid Resources
  • Low Vision Organizations
  • Print and Audio Materials for the Visually Impaired
  • Senior Housing
  • State and Local Resources

What resources are available to help people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and their caregivers? [ 08/30/13 ]

There are a great many resources available to people with low vision and their caregivers. For instance, every state has an agency on aging. You may find it in the phone book, online, or with the help of a librarian or friend. Professional low-vision therapists at eye clinics or other organizations can assist you. Let your eye doctor know what kind of limitations you are experiencing due to vision loss. He or she can then refer you to a vision rehabilitation center, where a low-vision therapist can work with you to help you adapt and resolve specific problems.

You can also modify your environment, use low-vision aids, develop your senses of hearing and touch, and practice using peripheral vision. Your doctor can prescribe optical devices such as magnifiers. Many non-prescription magnifying glasses and devices are also available to assist with reading and other close work, such as sewing or model-building. These devices range from the simple and inexpensive to more expensive high-tech products that can aid in using computers and watching television.

Many styles of magnifiers, including discreet ones, can be found at drug and medical supply stores, or may be ordered online or by phone through low-vision product catalogs. A hand-held magnifying glass can help with reading medicine bottle labels, mail, price tags in stores, and restaurant menus. Other magnifiers come in the form of eyeglasses or clip onto glasses to free your hands for other activities.

Commonly used household items with large numbers and letters, and others that “talk,” are also available. There are many sources for large-print books and audio materials, as well as services that read newspapers and magazines by phone or over the radio.

Electronic reading aids are proliferating, such as: computer programs that magnify the computer screen and/or read screen text out loud; special scanners to carry while shopping that read out prices, sizes, and colors; web browser plug-ins; and smartphone applications. One specialized device can take pictures of signs or menus and read the words in the pictures aloud.


Can vitamin supplements help treat dry age-related macular degeneration? [ 08/30/13 ]

Once dry age-related macular degeneration reaches the advanced stage, there is no form of treatment at present to prevent further vision loss. However, there is an intervention measure that could delay and possibly prevent intermediate age-related macular degeneration from progressing to the advanced stage in which vision loss occurs.

The National Eye Institute’s Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that taking nutritional supplements with a specific high-dose formulation of antioxidants (vitamins C and E and beta-carotene), zinc, and copper delayed or prevented the progression of age-related macular degeneration from the intermediate to the advanced stage.

A follow-up trial, called AREDS2, was completed in May 2013. In that study, researchers found that the addition of omega-3 fatty acids to the supplements did not improve the formula’s success. The antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin proved safer than beta-carotene, which increases the risk of lung cancer for smokers or ex-smokers. Thus, the AREDS2 recommendation for the supplement formula is 500 milligrams of vitamin C, 400 international units of vitamin E, 10 milligrams of lutein, 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin, 80 milligrams of zinc, and 2 milligrams of copper.


Do wet and dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have early, intermediate and advanced stages? [ 08/30/13 ]

All wet AMD is considered advanced; however, the dry form of AMD has three stages:

  • Early AMD - patients have several small drusen or a few medium-sized drusen. There is no vision loss or symptoms at this stage.
  • Intermediate AMD - patients have many medium-sized drusen or one or more large drusen. Some people may need more light for tasks such as reading. A blurry spot may appear in the center of the visual field.
  • Advanced AMD - patients exhibit a large number of drusen deposits and a breakdown of RPE and photoreceptor (light sensitive) cells and supporting tissue in the retina. A large blurry spot occurs in the center of the visual field and can become larger and darker, eventually causing a complete loss of central vision.

Do people with macular degeneration ever have visual hallucinations? [ 08/30/13 ]

Yes, some people with macular degeneration also develop Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) and hallucinate. Some eye diseases prevent normal nerve impulses from reaching the brain, and it is believed that spontaneous, brain-generated nerve activity may cause visual hallucinations. CBS appears to be more common in women than men and is more likely to occur if both eyes are affected by disease. The hallucinations are normally complex and can include detailed patterns or fully formed images such as animals, people, faces or scenery. Patients know that the hallucinations are not real. These images are not associated with any other sensory (e.g., sound or odor) hallucinations, nor are they delusions. The hallucinations may last for seconds or for most of the day. They tend to disappear when people close their eyes. CBS may last for days or even years, but can be managed by educating the patient and reassuring him or her that the images are a result of eye disease, not a mental disorder.


Is there treatment for the dry form of macular degeneration? [ 08/30/13 ]

There is no specific treatment for dry age-related macular degeneration. However, the National Eye Institute's Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) has found that taking a specific high-dose formulation of antioxidants significantly reduces the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration and its associated vision loss. This combination of antioxidants is generally referred to as the AREDS formulation. Slowing age-related macular degeneration's progression from the intermediate stage to the advanced stage may save the vision of many people. Before taking the AREDS formulation or any other nutritional supplement it is strongly recommended that you consult with your physician and/or eye specialist. For additional information about macular degeneration please visit the following page prepared by our organization: Frequently Asked Questions.


How is age-related macular degeneration (AMD) diagnosed? [ 08/30/13 ]

To help diagnose AMD, an eye care professional will perform a dilated eye exam to view the retina and optic nerve for damage, a visual acuity test to measure sight from various distances and a fundoscopy to examine the back of the eye. If wet AMD is suspected, fluorescein angiography, in which dye is used to detect leaking blood vessels, may also be performed. The patient might be asked to look at Amsler grid; if the straight lines on the grid appear wavy or distorted, AMD may be developing.


What is age-related macular degeneration (AMD)? [ 08/30/13 ]

AMD is a common eye disease associated with aging that gradually destroys sharp, central vision. The retina is the very thin tissue that lines the back of the eye and contains the light-sensing cells that send visual signals to the brain. Sharp, clear, 'straight ahead' vision is processed by the macula, which is the central part of the retina. When the macula is damaged, many daily activities such as driving, reading and recognizing faces become increasingly difficult.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is a public service of the BrightFocus Foundation and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional; it is not intended to constitute medical advice. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy. All medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. Also, although we make every effort to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the posted information reflects the most up-to-date research.

Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.

Last Review: 04/29/13


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