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Macular degeneration is a thinning of the tissues of part of the eye called the macula retina due to the body's natural aging process, which causes slow, progressive vision loss.
There are two types of macular degeneration, "dry" (atrophic) and "wet" (exudative).
The most common is dry macular degeneration, in which vision loss is usually gradual. Vision loss in the "wet" type of macular degeneration is caused when abnormal blood vessels form in the back of the eye. This is a more serious condition that causes rapid and severe vision loss. Treatment with a laser can sometimes help, but, in a few years, the end result is generally dismal. Until now, there has been no really effective therapy other than supportive anti-oxidant vitamins and leafy green vegetables. We are currently involved in several studies including laser and radiation treatments for the prevention of complications due to age-related macular degeneration.
The laser study can offer enrollment to patients with the "dry" type of macular degeneration while the radiation study is offered to patients with the "wet" type. Patients are randomly chosen to either have the treatment followed by observation over several years, or simply to be observed for this time. A new treatment using photodynamic therapy (PDT) has recently been approved by the FDA and is now available at Ochsner. This treatment involves the injection of a drug (Visudyne) into a vein in the arm and then treatment by a specially designed laser to the abnormal blood vessels in the back of the eye. This treatment is limited to patients with "wet" macular degeneration.