Long-term research in Ukraine has shown that effective use of light therapy in macular degeneration cases can stimulate the eye’s own healing powers.
By Cindy McKay
Age related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in today’s senior population and is said to affect one in every seven people over the age of 50. It is estimated that in Western Canada, three million people are at risk for the disease and those numbers are projected to increase by an additional million by the year 2016. A new treatment, on trial over the last three years, is showing impressive results in reversing the disease in its early stages and in bringing relief to those with later stages of AMD.
What is macular degeneration? The disease occurs when the central focal point in the eye becomes obscured, blocking out faces and anything else seen in the centre line of sight.
There are two classifications of AMD: dry, which accounts for about 90 per cent of all AMD conditions and wet, which affects up to 10 per cent of AMD patients but accounts for more than two-thirds of the population with significant vision loss.
Dry AMD begins with the accumulation of drusen, small yellow-white deposits which form in the macula, the central portion of the retinal tissue beneath the retina. The macula is responsible for the detailed vision needed to read, recognize faces, thread a needle or sign cheques.
The early stages of dry AMD produce no apparent vision losses or symptoms but can be detected by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. In the intermediate stage, additional light may be needed for tasks and a blurry spot may appear in the centre of the visual field. In advanced stages, a large blurry spot appears in the central vision field, becomes darker and eventually will cause complete loss of vision.
Wet AMD can cause rapid vision loss as newly created abnormal blood vessels grow under the centre of the retina, destroying the central vision as they leak, bleed and scar the retina.
AMD has proven to be hereditary but smoking, exposure to UV-A and UV-B light rays, and poor nutrition are risk factors. While there are no other proven cures for AMD, prevention may include regular eye exams, wearing sunglasses and becoming health conscious. Current treatment ranges from vitamin supplements – heavily packed with vitamin A (beta carotene), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin E, zinc and copper—to the injection of drugs for wet AMD to ward off its progression.
Studies done at the Filatov Eye Disease and Tissue Therapy Institute in the Ukraine over the last 20 years have shown effective use of light therapy to be a way of stimulating the eye’s own healing qualities. In 2008, a LED-based therapy was approved by Health Canada for prototype development and demonstration as an option to treat dry AMD. The 2011 study showed that continuous treatment, with a new LED light therapy, has been effective in improving vision in those who showed early stages of dry AMD.
“This is exciting as it brings independence back to seniors,” says Stan Schroeder, president of Black Wolf Vision Aid Centres. “In Europe, over 4,500 people were treated with the type-two LED medical device which stimulates the eye to heal itself. The treatment has shown that macular degeneration can be essentially reversed if the condition is caught before 50 per cent of the vision is lost. There is a significant improvement in sight if caught before 80 per cent, and treatments given beyond this has been shown to improve colour perception and restores some vision loss.”
Treatment consists of a series of 10 consecutive daily sessions that expose the affected eye to a LED light that irradiates the affected area. Patients are comfortable as they rest their chin on the device while the procedure takes five minutes to perform. Technicians and optometrists are available to monitor progress, address concerns and make recommendations.
At clinical demonstrations in Winkler a year ago, 13 people participated with 86 per cent showing improvement in their AMD condition. In February, a new technology demonstration clinic will be launched at 3680 Roblin Boulevard, in Winnipeg.
For more information on AMD, visit http://www.visionaid.ca.