A leading cause of blindness for those 55 and older that aff ects more than 10 millionAmericans, macular degeneration is caused by deterioration of the central portion ofthe retina, known as the macula, and characterized by loss of central vision.
By MIKE CULLITY | NEW HAMPSHIRE SUNDAY NEWS-
A FEW YEARS AGO, GaryHermsdorf learned hewas in the early stagesof age-related maculardegeneration.A leading cause of blindnessfor those 55 and older that affectsmore than 10 million Americans,macular degeneration is caused bydeterioration of the central portionof the retina, known as the macula,and characterized by loss of centralvision, according to the AmericanMacular Degeneration Foundation.The disease robbed Hermsdorf’suncle of his vision, but the 66-yearoldHooksett retiree is determinedto avoid the same fate.“Seeing that happen to my uncleand knowing I was starting downthe same road, I would and will doabsolutely anything that will helpme,” he said.Recently, Hermsdorf’s eye doctortold him about a new DNA testfor patients diagnosed with earlyforms of macular degeneration thatidentifi es those most likely to progressto more advanced forms ofvision loss. The test, called MaculaRisk, uses genetics and smokinghistory to identify a patient’s risklevel.New Hampshire Eye Associates,the Manchester practice whereHermsdorf is a patient, beganoffering the test late last year, saidAnthony Correnti, the eye surgeonand retina specialist who treatsHermsdorf. The practice is one ofonly about 500 that offer it nationwide,Correnti said.The prevalence of maculardegeneration among its patientsprompted New Hampshire EyeAssociates to introduce the test,Correnti said. “About 70 percent ofthe patients I see are dealing withsome form of it,” he said.People with early maculardegeneration have no symptomsor vision loss, according to the NationalEye Institute. The hallmarksof the condition are drusen, or fi neyellow deposits under the retina detectable only by an eye exam,Correnti said.Early macular degeneration isone of three stages of the “dry”form of the disease, which is typified by gradual vision loss.“Sometimes the changes happen so slowly that people don’t realizeit until they’ve lost almost all theirvision in one eye,” Correnti said.While 90 percent of those withmacular degeneration suffer fromthe dry form, the disease also hasa “wet” form that occurs whenabnormal blood vessels behind theretina start to grow under the macula,damaging it rapidly by leakingblood and fluid, according to the National Eye Institute.