Retinal Degenerations

Retinal Degenerations

Our eyes are our window to the world, and tucked away in their depths is a remarkable layer of tissue called the retina. This intricate web contains millions of rods and cones that sense light like microscopic cameras and transforms it into electrical signals delivered straight to your brain – enabling you to experience life in visual details and colors. The macula, at its center, ensures sharp central vision for reading and driving – while providing a fully detailed view on everything around us.

Retinal diseases are a pervasive issue, robbing many of their sight or leaving other visual symptoms in their wake. However, these conditions can be addressed with early detection and treatment.

Retinal degeneration is a progressive retinopathy that can manifest in many different ways, from slightly impaired vision to total loss of sight. Not all cases are alike and symptoms may include impaired vision, night blindness, eye floaters, blurred vision, light sensitivity, tunnel vision, and loss of peripheral vision – to total loss of vision.

Every vision disorder is unique and requires a specialized plan of treatment. Together, we will work to develop an approach that best fits your needs with the ultimate goal of preserving or improving your sight.

Degenerative retinal diseases and conditions include:

Arteries and veins are essential for supplying blood to the retina. A Branch Retinal Vein Occlusion (BRVO) occurs when one of these retinal veins becomes blocked and fluid builds up in the area resulting in vision loss because of a lack of oxygen getting to those cells. This blockage is also called an ‘eye stroke’. Central Retinal Vein Occlusion (CRVO) is known to be one of its worst forms and those who don’t seek proper treatment can experience an irreversible decline in their sight.

Arteries and veins are essential for supplying blood to the retina. A branch retinal vein occlusion (BRVO) occurs when one of these retinal veins becomes blocked and fluid builds up in the area resulting in vision loss because of a lack of oxygen getting to those cells. This blockage is also called an ‘eye stroke’. Central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO) is known to be one of its worst forms and those who don’t seek proper treatment can experience an irreversible decline in their sight. »Retinal Detachment

A retinal tear occurs when the clear, gel-like substance in the center of your eye (vitreous) shrinks and tugs on the thin layer of tissue lining the back of your eye (retina) with enough traction to cause a break in the tissue. It’s often accompanied by the sudden onset of symptoms such as floaters and flashing lights. »Retinal Holes & Tears

There are two primary stages of diabetic eye disease. Non-Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (NPDR) is the early stage in which damaged blood vessels in the retina leak fluid and blood, leading to swelling of the retina. Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy (PDR) is the stage whereas new abnormal blood vessels start growing in the retina. These new blood vessels are fragile and can bleed into the eye and retinal detachments, leading to vision loss. »Diabetic Retinopathy

Macular degeneration, although primarily an age-related disorder, can also manifest in younger individuals and has been linked to a variety of factors such as hereditary factors or nutritional deficiencies. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in elderly patients. There are two classifications of AMD – dry or non-exudative AMD (also called atrophic AMD) and wet or exudative AMD (also called neovascular). »Macular Degeneration

Macular holes are commonly associated with aging and often affects those over 60 years old. The vitreous tends to shrink as we age and pull away from the retina – usually without issue, however, there may be instances where it sticks – resulting in a macular hole forming due to stretching or swelling. In rare cases, young people who have suffered an injury or trauma directly related to their eyes might also develop this type of condition. »Macular Hole

Macular pucker (also called epiretinal membrane) can compromise our precious sense of sight. When it occurs, this condition causes the macula to become wrinkled or bulged – impeding the ability to make out details and see straight lines clearly. As a result, your central vision may be blocked due to gray clouds or blank spots obscuring images in view, but your peripheral (side) vision remains unaffected. »Macular Pucker

An inherited degenerative condition, retinitis pigmentosa gradually affects the retina – diminishing night vision and causing peripheral vision loss.

An inherited disease, passed on to children from their parents, Stargardt disease is often called juvenile macular dystrophy. Those with the disease face the condition of having their photoreceptors – the special light-sensing cells within the macula – slowly perish. Detailed vision becomes blurry or has dark areas, typically beginning during childhood. Others with Stargardt disease may not begin to experience vision loss until adulthood. There is no treatment for Stargardt disease, but vision rehabilitation therapies may aid in helping those affected to make the most of their remaining vision.

Cone-rod dystrophy describes a group of related eye disorders that cause vision loss that becomes worsened over time. Such disorders affect the retina and the prognosis is irregular – with early central vision loss and progressive visual dysfunction leading to legal blindness by the age of 40 years for many patients. There are no specific treatments for cone-rod dystrophy, but there are ways to help patients manage their symptoms and try to slow down the progression.

Maculopathy, also commonly referred to as macular degeneration, affects the macula behind the retina. It is a progressive disease that may lead to central vision loss – eventually in both eyes. Toxic maculopathy can be caused by reactions or side effects of certain medications such as immunosuppressive/anti-rheumatic drugs and anti-parasite treatments – chloroquinine (CQ) or hydrochloroquinine (HCQ such as Plaquenil). Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine retinopathy are not reversible, even after stopping the medication, and the cellular damage often continues over time.This type of condition can also be related to the use of pentosan polysulfate sodium (such as Elmiron), a light blood thinner sometimes prescribed to treat bladder pain associated with interstitial cystitis.

A high intake of cholesterol and saturated fat has been associated with an increased risk for early age-related maculopathy. The presence of heart disease – atherosclerosis and its risk factors – are also related to maculopathy. People who smoke and/or use alcohol frequently can also become at risk for maculopathy and retinopathy. A healthy diet, lifestyle, and enjoying nutrient dense foods can help to prevent or slow retina and macular degeneration. Vitamins A, C, and E are powerful allies in the fight. Vitamin A is absolutely essential for healthy human retinal pigment epithelial cells while vitamins C and E serve as potent antioxidants to bolster protection from further damage.

CAR is a condition that can significantly impair vision in up to 50% of people diagnosed with cancer, especially for those between the ages of 55 and 65 years old. Systemic steroids, intravenous immunoglobulin, and monoclonal antibodies are some treatments used to manage this autoimmune retinopathy – which tends to be more prevalent among females who have cancer and/or are undergoing treatment. With early diagnosis comes better chances at maintaining one’s sight against degeneration caused by cancer-associated retinopathy.

Lattice degeneration is a condition that affects the retina of the eye. It is characterized by the presence of thinning, atrophic areas in the peripheral retina that resemble a lattice pattern. This condition is relatively common and is usually asymptomatic, meaning that most people with lattice degeneration are unaware of it. However, in some cases, it can lead to retinal tears or detachment, which can cause vision loss and even blindness if not treated promptly. The exact cause of lattice degeneration is unknown, but it is believed to be related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It is more common in individuals who are nearsighted or who have a family history of the condition. If you have been diagnosed with lattice degeneration, it is important to have regular eye exams to monitor and possibly treat your condition and to discuss any concerns with your retina specialist.

As we age, our eyesight may change and need extra care. As such, it’s important to keep an eye out for any sudden changes in vision like floaters or flashes as these are potential warning signs of potentially serious retinal diseases. Risk factors that could lead to a higher risk of developing retinal degeneration include smoking, obesity, diabetes, other health conditions, as well genetic predispositions. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience sudden reduced vision at any time.

South Carolina Retina Institute is well recognized for its expertise in overall patient retina care. Our skilled retina specialists and vitreoretinal surgeons are experienced in the treatment of visual conditions, eye diseases, and surgery of the vitreous and retina. Our knowledgeable SCRI staff is dedicated to keeping up with the latest medical breakthroughs and providing you with strategies that can increase your ability to manage or overcome conditions affecting your vision.