As is the same with many parts of the body, our eyes begin to feel the effects of aging later in life. One common condition that the elderly may be troubled by is age-related macular degeneration. This is when the macula, a small area located in the center of the retina, is damaged. When not treated, macular degeneration can lead to vision loss and is the leading cause of it in those who are 50 and older.1 This is why it's important for anyone who is experiencing symptoms to talk to a health care professional about potential treatment options.
Once macular degeneration has progressed to the later stages, it is also referred to as dry AMD. Vision changes that may indicate this condition may include:
- blind spot in central line of sight
- blurriness or haziness
- hallucinations of well-known shapes and faces
- poor sight in dimly lit areas
- decreased recognition of brightness of colors
- trouble recognizing faces
At the first sign of differences to central vision, the Mayo Clinic encourages individuals to see their doctors. Other key issues include impaired recognition of colors or fine details.2
Currently, medical professionals have not been successful in finding a treatment option for curing dry AMD. However, there are some procedures that patients may experience improvements with.3 That being said, scientists are regularly conducting new research to find a cure. Investigations have included things like acupuncture, microcurrent stimulation and rheopheresis. Another option that has been gaining popularity as of late is hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).
Professionals from the Retina Associates of South Florida tested to effectiveness of HBOT on 14 patients who were suffering from AMD. After a 1-hour session, researchers found that participants experienced significant improvements to their visual fields.4 As a result, most also benefit from improvements to their overall well-being, as they were able to go about their daily living more easily. So, what is HBOT?
Patients are placed in an environment with 100 percent oxygen that is under increased atmospheric pressure.5 This is generally done within a chamber, where patients are able to rest comfortably as they watch television, listen to music or just snooze. Throughout the process, the tissues within the eye are flooded with oxygen. This helps to regenerate cells and promote healing of the macula, ultimately leading to improvements in vision.6
Risks of HBOT
Although HBOT can greatly benefit an individual's life, like many medical treatments, it comes with a few associated risks. In many cases, an individual who suffers from both cataracts and AMD will have to have their cataracts treated first. Patients should talk to their health care providers to learn more about these potential complications:
- inner ear injuries
- organ damage
- temporary nearsightedness
However, those who are candidates for HBOT should recognize that this is a generally safe option for treatment of AMD.7 Additionally, this form of oxygen therapy is also used to treat a variety of other health issues. It is popular for helping the blood carry oxygen to wounds more quickly, which speeds up the healing process.8
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1 National Institutes of Health, "Facts about age-related macular degeneration" July 2013
2 Mayo Clinic, "Dry macular degeneration: symptoms" November 20, 2012
3 AMD.org, "Treatment options for dry AMD"
4 National Institutes of Health, "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy and age-related macular degeneration" April 2010
5 Medscape, "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: overview" February 19, 2013
6 National Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Center, "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber to help treat macular degeneration" February 17, 2012
7 Mayo Clinic, "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: risks" October 27, 2011
8 National Institutes of Health, "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy" August 30, 2012