|The eyes have it||Nov. 26, 2006|
|Provided by: Sun Media|
|Written by: MARILYN LINTON|
|Be vigilant ladies: More women than men develop macular degeneration|
When Serina Fellowes (not her real name) was a teen, she amazed girlfriends by how easily she could put on lipstick without using a mirror. Today, at age 60, the talent has not been wasted because, sadly, Fellowes has lost her central vision and can't see her lips when she looks straight on into a mirror.
Her condition is called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and it means that she and the approximately two million Canadians who are living with the disease have lost the ability to see what's right in front of their very eyes.
AMD attacks the macula, a small spot in the centre of the eye's retina and eventually leads to blind spots in the central vision field. I remember interviewing a man who said the worst part of the disease was that it meant he couldn't see the faces of his grandchildren.
Comedienne Mary Walsh has often shared her personal experience with AMD. In a CNIB video, she said that during her lifetime she had worried about an enormous number of diseases, yet going blind had never occurred to her.
When you think about it, everything from reading a book to watching TV to putting toothpaste on a toothbrush depends on using our central vision.
Without it, we can't drive, tell time or recognize faces. Our world can easily collapse.
The condition is complicated in that there are two types -- wet, and a less severe dry form. AMD is essentially a microcirculatory disease: In the wet variety, for instance, abnormal blood vessels grow beneath the retina and eventually leak and bleed. Scary as this may sound, the process is painless -- which is why AMD is often not picked up until an advanced stage.
Anyone who has regular eye check-ups can be certain that the condition will be caught during an exam. Symptoms can include blurred vision, but those with AMD often say they didn't realize they had a problem until their second eye became involved.
We apparently are not aware of how we compensate for a weaker eye by using the stronger one more.
But there are other signs worth learning about. In its early stages, for instance, AMD presents itself as straight lines that look crooked. That means that door frames and ladders can appear wobbly. It may be difficult to distinguish colours, experts also say. (Check out amdcanada.com for at-home tests such as the Amsler Grid which you can print out to determine if you're at risk for AMD.)
Currently, there's no cure for the disease. But there are now two Health Canada approved therapies that have proven to be successful in slowing down the progression of wet AMD, the most serious form of the disease. One is a photo-dynamic therapy called Visudyne in which a drug is injected into the bloodstream and is activated in the eye by a non-heat laser -- thus sealing abnormal blood vessels in the back of the eye.
Another is a pegaptanib sodium injection called Macugen which works by blocking a protein that promotes blood vessel growth. Still in clinical trials is another promising drug called Lucentis which is designed to block developing blood vessel growth and leakiness. (For more on treatments and research, visit amdalliance.org.)
While the cause of AMD is still unknown, risk factors seem to include a family history of the disease, obesity, smoking and excessive exposure to sunlight. For some reason, more women than men develop the disease. However, the biggest risk of all is aging: Almost 40% of Canadians will develop the eye disease by age 75.
The good news is that evidence is now suggesting that yellow/orange fruits and dark green leafy vegetables rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals can slow down the disease. But the best protection against AMD is still a simple eye exam. Just don't wait until you can no longer see to put on your lipstick.
|MORE COLUMNS BY MARILYN LINTON|