• Promising New Treatments, Research and High-Tech Advances Provide Hope for People with Age-related Macular Degeneration

    American Academy of Ophthalmology Urges Patients to Empower Themselves with Sight-saving Information

    SAN FRANCISCO—Approximately 15 million people in the United States have age-related macular degeneration AMD, an eye disease that can rob people of their central vision. In fact, AMD is a leading cause of blindness in Americans age 65 and older.

    Not long ago, a diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration offered little in the way of hope due to limited treatment options. Groundbreaking research, however, has recently led to treatment options that can slow the progression of the disease and even restore some of the vision that was thought to be lost. In addition, new technologies are helping many people to successfully overcome vision limitations associated with AMD.

    In recognition of Age-related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month, the American Academy of Ophthalmology seeks to increase awareness of AMD and the latest clinical advances and prevention measures that are saving vision.

    Dry AMD Treatments
    Dry AMD is the most common form of macular degeneration. The most exciting new approaches for dry AMD include:

    • Medicine-secreting implants that protect dying cells,
    • New drugs that aim to prevent damage to the retina,
    • Clinical trials of medicines intended to slow the progression of dry AMD, and
    • A prosthesis system, known as Second Sight.

    Second Sight is an implant that attaches to the outside surface of the eye and connects to an electrode placed in the retina. A camera mounted on a pair of glasses communicates with the implant. This device is in clinical trials in the United States and is already in use in Europe.

    Wet AMD Treatments
    About 10 percent of Americans with AMD have wet AMD, which is responsible for the most severe vision loss. New, highly effective injectable medications are dramatically reducing damage from wet AMD and stabilizing vision, these include:

    • Avastin® and Lucentis®, which have been shown to reduce visual acuity loss in most patients and improves vision in some patients, and,
    • A new injectable drug, Eylea®, which received FDA-approval in late 2011.

    "As ophthalmologists, we know all too well the devastating impact AMD can have on people," said David W. Parke II, MD, CEO of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "Fortunately, the past few years have been marked by significant improvement in understanding the causes of the disease, which in turn has led to better treatment options. Ophthalmologists can now endeavor to more effectively treat multiple forms of AMD and that is providing new hope to our patients."

    AMD and Nutrition
    Nutrition might hold one key to slowing the progress of AMD. A recent study called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study AREDS showed that people at high risk for developing late-stage dry, or wet, macular degeneration who take a dietary supplement that includes specific, high levels of vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene, along with zinc, can decrease by about 25 percent their risk of macular degeneration progressing to advanced stages. The daily supplements also reduced the risk of vision loss for those at risk by about 19 percent. Patients should talk with their ophthalmologist to learn if supplements are recommended for them. A second study, AREDS2, is now underway to evaluate whether adding the supplements lutein and zeaxanthin and the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA to the AREDS formula can provide further protection against late-stage AMD. Results of this study are expected in 2013.

    Other studies have shown that eating dark leafy greens as well as yellow, orange and other brightly-colored vegetables and fruits rich in lutein and zeaxanthin may reduce risk for developing macular degeneration. Eating fish and seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids has also been linked to lower risk of AMD.

    Hi Tech Devices and Low Vision Services Help Patients Cope
    If vision loss does occur, there are many adaptations, aids and devices that can enable continued ability to read, use a computer and perform almost all routine activities. Recent innovations in consumer electronics — including tablets, e-readers and smartphones — as well as new and affordable alternatives can supplement traditional low-vision aids. For many patients with moderate to severe visual impairment, low vision rehabilitation clinics can provide needed assistance in enhancing visual function. Visit EyeSmart for low vision resources.

    Public Service Program Provides Free Eye Exams
    Ophthalmologists acknowledge that this is an exciting time for research and treatment options for AMD, however, they would like to remind people that the first line of defense to help prevent unnecessary vision loss from age-related eye diseases should be an eye exam. Through EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, nearly 7,000 ophthalmologists in the United States and Puerto Rico provide eye exams at no out-of-pocket cost to eligible people age 65 and older, thanks to their co-sponsor, the Knights Templar Eye Foundation, Inc., with additional support provided by Alcon and Genentech. For more information and to see if you qualify, visit: www.eyecareamerica.org.

    For more information on keeping eyes healthy, visit EyeSmart, the Academy's public information website.

    Note to Media: Contact Media Relations to request the full text of the study, arrange interviews with experts and request images.

    About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
    The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons — Eye M.D.s — with more than 30,000 members worldwide.  Eye health care is provided by the three "O's" – ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who can treat it all: eye diseases, infections and injuries, and perform eye surgery. The Academy's EyeSmart® public education program works to educate the public about the importance of eye health and to empower them to preserve their healthy vision, by providing the most trusted and medically accurate information about eye diseases, conditions and injuries. Visit www.geteyesmart.org to learn more.

    About EyeCare America
    Established in 1985, EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, is committed to the preservation of sight, accomplishing its mission through public service and education. EyeCare America provides year-round eye care services to medically underserved seniors and those at increased risk for eye disease through its corps of nearly 7,000 volunteer ophthalmologists dedicated to serving their communities. More than 90 percent of the care made available is provided at no out-of-pocket cost to the patients. Since its inception, EyeCare America has helped more than 1.7 million people. More information can be found at: www.eyecareamerica.org.