Charlotte Moorehead had no idea she even had a problem until she went for a routine eye checkup.
The 87-year-old thought her vision was near perfect, so it came as a surprise when her doctor diagnosed her with macular degeneration. “I had no pain—no signs that I would have macular degeneration,” Moorehead says. “I was completely shocked.”
Dr. Christopher Kardasis, Moorehead’s ophthalmologist, explains that it’s possible—and even common—for patients not to realize they have a problem in one eye.
“Patients often come to me with no complaints because often the other eye compensates for the bad eye,” he says. “My mother-in-law is the perfect example. She didn’t realize her eye was going bad until she got soap in her good eye and couldn’t see out of her bad eye.”
In Moorehead’s case, her right eye had such excellent vision, it compensated for her left eye. “My right eye was so good, I could see everything and I didn’t realize my left eye was doing what it was doing,” the Olympia Fields, Ill., resident says.
Macular degeneration affects more than 1.75 million Americans—more than glaucoma and cataracts combined—and is the number one cause of irreversible vision loss among the country’s growing senior population.
“It’s the number one cause of vision loss among those over 65,” Kardasis says.
While macular degeneration isn’t life threatening, it is debilitating.
It can not only prevent someone from getting a driver’s license or reading a book, it also can prevent someone from distinguishing between family members’ faces. “I take care of my husband and I spend a lot of my free time reading, so my eyesight is very important to me,” Moorehead says.
There are two types of macular degeneration—dry and wet. Dry is more common and less severe, and causes vision loss in the center of a person’s field of vision. It occurs when the macula, which is in the center of the retina, deteriorates.
Wet macular degeneration, Moorehead’s diagnosis, includes swelling caused by leaking blood vessels that affect the macula.
“The vast majority have the dry, which is not progressive,” Kardasis says. “It’s very slow, and every other part of the retina is essentially normal. The other 10 percent of Americans have the more aggressive form, the wet form. There is leakage and bleeding, and there’s rapid change in one's vision.”
Kardasis explains both wet and dry can cause increased blurriness, decreased brightness of colors, and in severe cases, hallucinations of geometric shapes, animal or people.
Up until recently, treatment for wet macular degeneration consisted of patients frequently undergoing prescribed drug therapies and injections.
However, Kardasis, who is on staff at Advocate South Suburban Hospital, is one of few physicians in the Chicago and Northwest Indiana areas who are offering their patients a new medication that reduces the number of times patients have to receive treatment.
Patients receiving Eylea treatment can go almost twice as long—up to eight weeks—between injections in their physician’s office, when compared to older prescribed drug therapies, Kardasis says.
Decreased visits mean more convenience and less discomfort, as well as possible cost savings, he says.
Although there is no cure for either type of macular degeneration, Eylea therapy helps block abnormal blood vessel growth that leads to vision loss in wet macular degeneration. “I could tell the positive difference in my vision after the first shot,” Moorehead says. “I was so happy that I did a jig in the exam room.”
Eylea is injected into the eye’s vitreous portion—the clear jelly-like substance that fills the eye from the lens back to the retina. The injections are given on an outpatient basis with anesthesia to minimize discomfort.
Moorehead recently finished her last scheduled treatment and shortly after went to see her ophthalmologist for a checkup. “I could read several lines further down,” she says. “The treatment really worked for me.”
Anyone exhibiting signs or symptoms of macular degeneration should see an ophthalmologist, Kardasis says.