Improved treatment for eye problems helps protect vision


eyesTreatment for eye problems has improved to the point where cataract surgery is considered routine and age-related macular degeneration is controllable.

About 100 people listened as two eye doctors discussed cataracts, retinal problems related to diabetes and macular degeneration during Vision Matters 2015 Community Day, held Tuesday at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

They also browsed tables piled with information from several groups involved in helping those with low vision, including the Jewish Council for the Aging of Greater Washington and the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington.

This is the third year for this event, sponsored in part by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington and the Montgomery County Department of Aging and Disability Services.

Much of the event was devoted to educating the participants and calming their fears.
Cataract, which means waterfall, is a normal part of aging and is not a disease, said Dr. Rachel Bishop of the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health. “Any cloudiness that interferes with vision, we call that a cataract.”

About 20 million adults older than 40 are affected by cataracts. In comparison, about double that number, 40 million, wear glasses, Dr. Bishop said.

Some less frequent eye problems are diabetic-related eye disease, which is experienced by about 4 million people; macular degeneration, which about 2 million people have; and glaucoma, which affects 2 million people, she said.

Not that long ago, cataract surgery involved only removing a layer in the eye and replacing it with a plastic-like substance that became the person’s new lens. Today, that person can choose from a variety of lenses depending on such things as whether a person is nearsighted or farsighted. Some new lenses will eliminate the need to wear eye glasses, she said.

Deciding when to have cataract surgery is up to patients, who must decide whether their impaired vision is a problem or not, Bishop said. Cataract surgery is never mandated.

Other eye problems must be treated right away, said Dr. Steven Pappas Jr., a Bethesda ophthalmologist and retina specialist.

Age-related macular degeneration is a “very, complex disease.” About 15 years ago, anyone diagnosed with the wet form of this genetic disease had a 90 percent chance of the disease worsening, often resulting in a loss of vision.

Now, with the proper care, that chance has been reduced to about 10 percent, Dr. Pappas said.

The prognosis has improved due to new “extremely effective” medicines, he said. These medicines need to be administered frequently, generally anywhere from monthly to every 10 weeks.

Dr. Pappas said that doctors also have learned that eye-related problems due to diabetes can be avoided provided that the person’s blood sugar is kept under control. n

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