Ahead of the Game

Early detection is key to control age-related macular degeneration.

Helen Hameroff plans ahead to avoid the unexpected.
With a family history of macular degeneration, Helen decided to be safe rather than sorry and see an eye specialist.

Photo courtesy of Helen Hameroff.

Helen can relax and not worry about AMD, thanks to the expertise of Dr. Hairston.

“My mother has macular degeneration, as well as my sister,” Helen shares. “I had a gut feeling that I should see a specialist to have my eyes checked specifically for it just because I was getting older. I didn’t want to face unexpected surprises.”
Helen’s ophthalmologist referred her to Richard J. Hairston, MD, a board-certified, fellowship-trained retina surgeon at The Eye Institute of West Florida.
After examining her eyes, Dr. Hairston determined that Helen’s intuition was correct. She did indeed have age-related macular degeneration.
“Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of fifty in the United States,” Dr. Hairston explains. “Helen was very proactive in making sure she had her eyes checked specifically for this because of her family history. It’s not a condition where she would have any specific symptoms. Annual eye exams over the age of fifty are highly recommended in order to detect this disease.”

Understanding AMD

The macula is a small area near the center of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye. The macula is responsible for providing the sharp central vision that allows a person to see fine details and color. When the macula begins to break down or deteriorate, it is called macular degeneration. As it is more common in people as they get older, it is often referred to as age-
related macular degeneration, or AMD.
“It has been estimated that ten million people have some form of macular degeneration currently,”
Dr. Hairston states. “As the baby boomer population ages over the next twenty years, that number is expected to triple.”
AMD has two forms, a dry form and a wet form. With the dry form, the macular tissue itself begins to deteriorate; with the wet form, new blood vessels begin to grow underneath the retina. About 90 percent of AMD patients have the dry form, and ten percent have the wet form. In about ten percent of patients, the dry form of AMD changes to the wet form. This was the case with Helen.
People with the wet form of AMD will likely notice some changes in their vision, including a gradual loss of the ability to see objects clearly. There may be blurring of an area of type on a page of print, or dark or empty spaces that may block the center of the field of vision.
“I had the dry form in both eyes and never had any problems,” Helen recalls. “Dr. Hairston told me to call him immediately if I ever noticed a change in my vision. Suddenly one day, I had a blind spot in my right eye that was not there before. I had an appointment the next week and I was going to wait, but I remembered that Dr. Hairston told me to call right away with any changes, so I did and they got me in the next day.”
“Most AMD patients see an abrupt change overnight if they go from the dry to the wet,” Dr. Hairston says. “This is what happened with Helen. But, the bigger issue is, many of those patients don’t seek help right away and let things go for months until it is too late.
“Bottom line here is, Helen saved her own sight.”

Today’s Treatment

“Over the last fifteen years, we have seen a dramatic change in the way we treat macular degeneration, most notably over the last six years,” comments Dr. Hairston. “The biggest change has been going from a destructive procedure, that being laser photocoagulation, to a less destructive treatment.”
Dr. Hairston notes that while patients are sometimes anxious at first because the latest treatment for AMD involves injections into the eyes, most admit to barely being aware that the procedure has been done.
“Our anesthetics are so good and the needles we use are so fine that at most, patients notice a pushing or a small pinch sensation,” Dr. Hairston reports. “The injections are tolerated very well, and it is exciting to have patients with wet macular degeneration see an improvement in vision.”
“It doesn’t hurt; you don’t feel a thing,” Helen confirms. “I go every other month for an injection, and I’m never afraid, thanks to Dr. Hairston.”

Seeing for Life

With the help of The Eye Institute of West Florida, Helen’s AMD is now well controlled.
“I see perfectly in the right eye now,” Helen shares. “I admit I was nervous at first about the injections, but I would do it again in a minute.”
Dr. Hairston says Helen is finished with her treatment and is undergoing maintenance therapy at this point.
“She is doing extremely well, and we are pleased with her results,” he says. “Her vision in the right eye is 20/25 right now. It is as close to perfect as she can get at this point.”
Helen is thankful for Dr. Hairston and for the treatment she received.
“Without the injections, I would not be able to see now in that right eye,” Helen raves.
“I see colors vividly and people’s faces! It’s like a miracle!”

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