Macular Degeneration: Are You at Risk?

Over 15 million people in the U.S. have macular degeneration, a progressive, blinding eye disease. The bitter truth of macular degeneration is that it affects older adults around retirement age. So, picture yourself or your parents spending their whole life working, retiring so they can read their favorite books by the fireplace, and then losing their vision and not being able to read. It is a devastating condition that plunges 40 to 50 percent of macular degeneration sufferers into clinical depression. And it used to be that there was no way to prevent it. If your parents had it, there was a good chance you would get it—and that was that.

Nowadays, there are ways to detect macular degeneration much earlier . . . ways to determine genetic risk . . . and even some ways to prevent the early stage from getting worse.

Let’s take a moment to look into each of those.

Earlier Detection of Macular Degeneration

At Optique, you have come to know us as providers who are at the leading edge of science, with top-of-the-line detection equipment. We invest in technology to ensure the best outcomes for our patients. We have imaging technology, called OCT, to look just under the surface of the retina, at the earliest signs of macular degeneration. We also screen all our patients using a test called Macular Pigment Optical Density (MPOD). MPOD measures the amount of certain wavelengths of light that reach the center part of vision, or macula. This translates to the amount of protective pigment in the macula that acts as the body’s “natural sunglasses” in filtering dangerous UV light from causing cumulative damage. This pigment density can be measured and—more importantly—increased with treatment.

Treatment of Macular Degeneration

There are a few simple things you can do to decrease your risk of developing macular degeneration. The first two are to lose weight and to stop smoking. The next is more leading edge. In large clinical studies by the National Eye Institute, vitamin supplementation with a specific preparation of nutrients has been shown to prevent people from advancing from moderate macular degeneration to severe stages of the disease. However, in follow-up studies, this has only been shown to be true in 85 percent of people taking the supplements. In 15 percent of patients, the same formulation of vitamins actually ACCELERATED their stage of the disease (i.e., made it worse). So it is very important to determine who are among the 85 percent for whom it helps, and who are among the 15 percent for whom it makes things worse.

So how can we tell who is in which group?

Genetic Risk of Macular Degeneration

We know that people who have family members with macular degeneration are much more likely to develop the disease themselves. Now, there is a brand-new genetic test for macular degeneration. This test tells us someone’s genetic risk profile for developing the disease. And it also tells us two other critical factors: It tells us a patient’s exact risk for progression to a more visually devastating form of the disease (called “wet macular degeneration”) and, importantly, it tells us which vitamin regimen should be taken to avoid making things worse. So now—with this breakthrough advance—we know exactly who is in the 85 percent group and who is in the 15 percent group, for whom we need to tailor the regimen.

At Optique, we don’t mess around with macular degeneration. For twelve years, Dr. Jeffrey Sonsino ran Vanderbilt’s Center for Sight Enhancement, and saw firsthand the devastation macular degeneration created in peoples’ lives. While there, he invented a set of reading glasses for those with macular degeneration, which is now selling in the marketplace.  This is why Optique attacks the disease using all of the tools known to help prevent it.

More About Dr. Jeffrey Sonsino

Dr. Sonsino is a diplomate in the Cornea, Contact Lenses, and Refractive Technologies section of the American Academy of Optometry (AAO). He is also past chairman of the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) Council on Cornea and Contact Lenses, a fellow of the Scleral Lens Education Society, and is on the advisory board of the Gas Permeable Lens Institute (GPLI). In 2017, he was awarded the Practitioner of the Year by the GPLI, the Advocate of the Year by the American Optometric Association, and locally, was awarded a Top Three Optometrists in Nashville award by the Nashville Scene.