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August 24th, 2011
08:32 AM ET

How can I treat macular degeneration of the eye?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Wednesdays, it's Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.

Question asked by Ann:

Is there a treatment for macular degeneration of the eye?

Expert answer:

Dear Ann:

Age related macular degeneration is a disease of the central portion of the retina. This area is called the macula. The retina is the area of tissue in the back of the eyeball that senses light and is the key to vision. The macula or central area is the most important part of the retina as we use it to perform daily activities such as reading, watching television and driving.

Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness in the Western world. It is surpassed only by glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

AMD is a disease rarely seen in people under age 55. Some studies suggest that between 1% and 2% of adults over 55 have it and more than 5% of people over 75 have some form of it. Beyond age, risk factors include smoking, a history of the disease in one's family, a history of cardiovascular disease and heavy drinking. A diet rich in green leafy vegetables and fish products may reduce risk of AMD.

There are two kinds of AMD. There is "so called" dry AMD, which is also referred to as atrophic AMD, and there is wet AMD, which is also referred to as neovascular or exudative AMD. Dry AMD involves deposits of a material in the retina. Wet AMD involves blood vessels growing into the retina and leaking in the retina. Both forms of AMD lead to death of nerve cells. Wet AMD is far less common than dry. Dry AMD typically progresses slowly over many years and is less threatening to vision than wet AMD. It is possible and indeed common for someone with dry AMD to progress to wet AMD.

Both types of AMD can be diagnosed at their earliest stages by a trained clinician looking for signs of it at the back of the eye with an ophthalmoscope. Adults should have an eye examination on a regular basis, for this reason and as well as for early detection of other eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataract. Late-stage AMD is often diagnosed after the patient complains of loss of vision in the middle of the viewing field. It's often described as a ring of vision around a black hole.

There is no known effective therapy for dry AMD. Some have speculated that antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene and zinc might be a helpful treatment. There is some limited clinical study to justify their use in mild AMD. Thankfully, dry AMD tends to progress toward blindness very slowly.

Aggressive treatment of early wet AMD can prevent blindness. Antioxidants are prescribed as treatment of mild wet disease. Several drugs that inhibit vascular growth factors have been shown beneficial in more severe wet AMD. These drugs, bevacizumab and the related ranibizumab, are injected into the eye on a monthly basis for a period of a year or more. Bevacizumab is also used as a treatment for some cancers under the brand name Avastin. The growth factor inhibitors have largely replaced laser therapy which used to be a mainstay of wet AMD treatment.

There are experimental therapies of both forms of AMD. They vary from antioxidant eyedrops to eyedrops that inhibit vascular growth factors to photodynamic therapy to even fetal cell transplantation.

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soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. debbie

    go to youtube and see re-generation of all tissues and cells by dr robert morse.....robertmorsend

    August 24, 2011 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jesus Iglesias

    Recently, at Queretaro City in Mexico, DR. Mario Camacho has been very successful in regenerate macular cells using stem cells. Some patients have recovered their vision with this treatment.

    http://madrecelulas.blogspot.com/2011/08/biomedico-mario-camacho-celulas-madre.html

    August 24, 2011 at 10:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LAURA

      My mother is going to seek treatment w/ Dr. Camacho in Queretaro, Mexico this coming month....we have heard of him for a while....she has faith that w/his expertise she will regain her vision!

      August 25, 2011 at 17:29 | Report abuse |
  3. Kosta Nomniga

    The company Advanced Cell Technology is currently testing an AMD treatment based on injecting new stem cell derived RPE cells into the eye. They had great success with rats, and hopefully will have preliminary human results in the next few months. This isn't an available treatment yet but I am hopeful it will be in the next few years.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. sheron

    I have macular degeneration and was advised never to go outside without sunglasses on.

    August 24, 2011 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. chuck

    contact advanced cell technology than can cure dry and wet amd

    August 24, 2011 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • beth

      you can't "cure" macular degeneration... wet or dry. you can potentially slow its progression. profound loss of vision is most likely permanent, so early screenings are crucial.

      August 24, 2011 at 12:48 | Report abuse |
  6. HR

    I dated someone who developed this when he was 21 and slowly lost most of his vision within a few years. It was very sad for him and he had a really hard time not being able to drive anymore or do things he had planned. It would be really awesome if they found a cure for this. I would love for him to be able to see again even though I am not with him anymore.

    August 24, 2011 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jim

    Advanced Cell Technology began stem cell treatment of AMD this summer (2011).

    August 24, 2011 at 13:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jeng

    This is one of the worst ARMD articles I've ever seen. Some of the information is outdated (ie beta carotene), nothing is mentioned about smoking cessation, UV protection, or low vision rehabilitation, and some of the information is blatantly wrong (ARMD causing blindness... one never goes totally blind from ARMD, it isn't possible. Legal blindness, possibly, total blindness, never). For very good information on ARMD see http://www.mdsupport.org where it's actually accurate information written for non-medical professionals but reviewd by all types of eye care professionals who are experts in their subspecialties.

    August 24, 2011 at 13:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Genki

      Seriously, I agree. I'm an eye doctor. I was disappointed by this article. But I guess it was written by a cancer doctor, most likely he just googled it like anyone else.

      August 24, 2011 at 15:59 | Report abuse |
    • Jeng

      Guess that says a lot about the caliber of CNN's "experts" when a cancer doc doesn't know enough to admit he's not the appropriate "expert" to reply to an eye question.

      August 24, 2011 at 17:03 | Report abuse |
  9. Boston VisionWalk

    Currently there is no cure, organizations like the Foundation Fighting Blindness are raising funds to help research to find a cure for this particular degenerative disease as well as others such as RP. There is some exciting advances due to their research with more information available at the Foundation Fighting Blindness home page. If anyone is in the New England area and would like to help cure these diseases we would love to have you participate in the 2011 Boston VisionWalk held on 10/29. Here's some more information about the event. http://www.fightblindness.org/site/PageNavigator/VisionWalk_Homepage

    August 24, 2011 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jean

    If you have a family history of this age related macular degeneration or are at risk, insist on being evaluated by a retina specialist. General ophthalmologists may be adequate for screening – however, NO ONE examines the retina as a retina specialist. If you have an HMO, demand the referral to a retina spec. I am not a physician, I just have a lot of experience with this topic. Usually, lost vision is difficult to restore – try to prevent further loss. Good luck to all.

    August 24, 2011 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Steven R. Virata, MD, FACS

    As has been pointed out, this is an inaccurate article. I am a retinal specialist and there are two large, randomized clinical trials supporting antioxidants for dry macular degeneration (AREDS and AREDS-2). Antioxidants are not indicated for wet macular degeneration, although they are generally continued to slow down the overall degenerative process if an eye changes from dry to wet disease. The anti-VEGF agents, bevacizumab (Avastin) and ranibizumab (Lucentis) are use to help cause blood vessel regression in wet macular degeneration.

    August 24, 2011 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jill Hill Giesecke

      My husband has been diagnosed with Macular Degeneration, but has one eye that is wet and the other dry.
      Will anitoxidants do harm to one and help the other????

      December 17, 2015 at 13:24 | Report abuse |
  12. Gbird

    Why does it take her 6 paragraphs to get to the answer of the question, considering reading can be a chore for people with macular degeneration.

    August 25, 2011 at 01:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Stacy Cates

    Some info about research and clinical trials:

    Advanced Cell Technology (ACTC stock)

    http://www.advancedcell.com/patients/clinical%2Dtrial%2Dinformation/

    http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01344993?term=rpe+advanced+cell+technology&rank=1

    August 25, 2011 at 05:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Susan S

    Why don't you mention flourisciene dye guided laser surgery? The dye makes the patient wicked sun sensitive fore 3 days, but the procedure is painless. Some docs follow with a steroid shot in the eye a week later. I've had multiples in both eyes for pathological myopia which behaves just like wet AMD with great success and evey time I go to my doc there are patients lined up much older than me for similar procedure.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Gabe

    This article should be removed. There are several treatments now for MD. My grandmother is going to her doctor next week to discuss which one will work best. I'm rooting for the stem cell treatment & the telescopic implant as an alternative.

    August 25, 2011 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. ANGEL OF MERCEY

    POLLUTION IN EVERYTHING. GET BACK TO BASICS. THIS CAN BE TURNED AROUND. START PUTTING REPEAT OFFENDERS OUT OF BUSSINESS NO MORE SLAP ON THE WRIST

    August 26, 2011 at 02:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment

    Diabetic Retinopathy Treatment Packages will enhance your eye vision and remove your eye diseases.
    http://www.isotineeyedrops.com/eye-diseases/diabetic-retinopathy.asp

    August 29, 2011 at 06:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. William Swift

    Wlhere can I get Dr. Mario Camacho's address in Queretao, MX

    October 19, 2011 at 01:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Stephanie cabrera

    How can I contact dr. Mario camacho? Can someone please tell me?

    October 24, 2011 at 23:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. David Garza

    I live in Queretaro MX, Dr Camacho info is this:

    (011-52) from the States then 442 ....

    HOSPITAL DEL SOL SAN JOSÉ CLINICA MÉDICA.
    Av. del Sol No. 67, Col. El Sol
    Delegación Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
    C.P. 76113.
    01(442)182 3188
    01(442)455 5496.
    01(442)182 0300
    01(442)182 3187

    February 11, 2012 at 01:57 | Report abuse | Reply
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  23. Yau Ga Rin

    Food related macular degeneration
    Age related macular degeneration is a condition that has been in the end of the spectrum where your cones receptor mostly and rod receptors have been destroyed. The present treatment for age related macular degeneration is trying to flog a dead horse to come alive. Billions have spent and wasted time and effort to find a cure of age related macular degeneration.

    I am now like to introduce a new term food related macular degeneration and it is a preventable condition. Prevention means no drug in turn no money for the pharmaceutical companies. So it is highly unlikely it will be promoted . But prevention will give good quality of life to the older population they will have clear vision until their end of life.

    First you need to stop buying all supplements.
    Food with high in beta carotene like for example carrots, beet roots, tomatoes papayas and mangoes ,you nee to stop buying or planting them.
    No juicing of any kind fruits of vegetables.
    Cut down the fish to twice a week.
    That rest you use your common sense and read the labels on your food.
    For further information please make appointment with my nurses Ms Nadia or Ms Leela telephone number 04 6396315 from 9.30am to 4.30pm. at Pantai Hospital Penang, 82 Jalan Tengah, 11900 Bayan Baru, Penang, Malaysia.

    By MR Yau Ga Rin FRSSEd
    Consultant Ophthalmologist
    PANTAI Hospital Penang

    March 29, 2016 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.