Weber and Davis counties have a significant number of residents suffering from macular degeneration.
That’s why Salt Lake City-based optometrist, Dr. Jared Cooper, spends a majority of his time making house calls to residents living in the Top of Utah.
“Age-related macular degeneration is a progressive sight limiting eye disease in which the delicate nerves in the back of the inside of the eye begin to deteriorate,” Cooper said.
Not only can the disease affect the eyes, it can cause depression because it impacts a person’s quality of life.
“Because sufferers still have good peripheral vision they may notice that they can sometimes see small things, like a coin dropped on the floor but they aren’t able to see a person’s face when looking directly at them,” Cooper said.
Age-related macular degeneration, which affects around 8 million Americans, can begin around the age of 50, said Dr. Adam Bowman, an ophthalmologist at Mountain View Eye Center in Layton. About 10 percent of patients by age 75 have macular degeneration. This increases to 30 percent by the age of 85, he said.
There are no symptoms of early macular degeneration, Cooper said. However, blurred vision, even with glasses is the most common symptom of advancing disease.
“Objects also may not appear to be as bright and colors may look different than they once did,” he said.
There are two types of age-related macular degeneration. The dry form, which affects more people, is characterized by the presence of yellow deposits in the macula. This can cause dimming or distortion in vision as well as blind spots in the center of a person’s vision.
The wet form is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels underneath the macula. The vessels leak blood and fluid into the retina, causing straight lines to look bent, in addition to loss of central vision and blind spots.
Risks for developing the disease include smoking, obesity, family history and being Caucasian, according to the National Institute of Health. Not smoking, maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol, exercising and eating a healthy diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and fish may help prevent problems.
While there is no cure, there are some innovations in the field of low vision that are reducing a person’s visual symptoms, allowing them to live more independent, safer, higher quality of lives, Cooper said.
Some examples include telemicroscopic glasses, which are useful for computer use, reading and other activities done within arm’s length. The glasses are a combination of telescopic and microscopic lenses.
Bioptic glasses are also an option. They have tiny telescopes placed in the lens of eye glasses and create greater magnification for the patient.
Other treatment options are designed to slow down the progression of the disease. For dry macular degeneration, Bowman said supplements have been shown to slow the progression. Medication placed inside the eye can stabilize wet macular degeneration and sometimes even improve vision.
Cooper said high quality fish oil, lutein, zeaxanthin and taurine were shown to be helpful in one age-related eye disease study.
“All patients over the age of 60 should have a yearly eye exam,” Bowman said. “Patients with macular degeneration may be seen several times a year depending on their situation.”
In addition, younger people with a family history of eye disease should be seen on a regular basis to try and keep their eyes as healthy as possible.