Every 10 weeks I get injections in my eyes

Tue, Sep 25, 2012, 01:00

MY HEALTH EXPERIENCE: DEIRDRE LARKIN

I WAS first diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of registered blindness in Ireland, four years ago by my eye specialist. I was very aware of the condition as an aunt and uncle of mine had both been registered blind as a result of AMD.

I have been very aware of my eyesight from a young age. I’m 73 now and since I started wearing glasses at the age of eight, I have been to my optician and specialist regularly. I had been seeing my specialist, Mark Cahill at the Beacon Hospital, for a hole in the macula (an oval-shaped spot near the centre of the retina) which he had to operate on to repair.

I had just recovered from the surgery when I started to experience distortion of my sight. Straight lines appeared wavy, as if there were kinks in them. My consultant diagnosed me with AMD in my left eye. There are two types of AMD – wet and dry – and I was diagnosed with wet AMD, which fortunately can be treated with anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) injections.

My aunt and uncle had dry AMD which cannot be treated. Shortly after I started treatment for AMD in my left eye, I developed it in my right eye also so I am now getting treatment in both eyes.

Every 10 weeks, I have to get injections in both of my eyes. It’s not nice but it’s over very quickly and Mr Cahill is marvellous at distracting me. I get a local anaesthetic into the eye and valium to prepare me for it beforehand.

Having the injections in my eyes keeps me seeing so it’s not that big of a price to pay. I have stable vision now and I have not had to make any major adjustments to my normal life. I still drive and even driving at night is no problem.

Sometimes, I have difficulty seeing straight lines and cutting along straight lines. This is a bit of a problem because my hobby is making bobbin lace which involves very precise and intricate patterns. However, my lace-making teacher has cleverly devised other methods of making different lace that I can still do.

I used to do a lot of accompanying on the piano but I began to find music difficult and the last time I did it was last year. I still play the piano but I play by ear now.

My AMD has not changed my life in any other way. It has not affected my work as secretary of the Parnell Society which was established in 1986 to stimulate interest in the life, work and times of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Parnell family and to promote Avondale as a centre which reflects Wicklow’s historic association with the Parnell family.

I am responsible for all the administration of the society. I take minutes at all our meetings and am heavily involved in organising the Parnell Summer School each year. I did a paper recently for the society which involved quite a lot of research into old letters and I had no problems reading them.

In conversation with MICHELLE McDONAGH

WHAT IS AGE-RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION?

AMD is the principal cause of sight loss for people over the age of 50 in the western world and although it is not as well known as other eye diseases such as cataracts or glaucoma, it is thought to affect one in 10 Irish people over the age of 50, with 7,000 new cases in Ireland every year.

The condition affects the macula, a small part of the eye responsible for central vision which allows us to see detail. AMD usually starts in one eye and is highly likely to affect the other eye at a later stage.

Dry AMD is the most common form of the condition and develops slowly, eventually leading to loss of central vision. Wet AMD is less common than dry AMD and, left untreated, it can cause more rapid loss of vision. Wet AMD is caused by leaky blood vessels inside the eye and it is responsible for 90 per cent of cases of severe vision loss.

While wet AMD can develop quickly – in the majority of cases – if diagnosed and treated early, as much sight can be saved as possible and some people may even notice an improvement. That is why, if you are over 50, the Association of Optometrists Ireland recommends that you have a comprehensive eye check every two years.

There are a number of proven treatments for wet AMD: anti-VEGF injections, photodynamic therapy (PDT) or, in some cases, laser surgery.

The NCBI (National Council for the Blind of Ireland), Fighting Blindness, the Irish College of Ophthalmologists (ICO) and the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI), supported by Novartis, are working together to increase public awareness of AMD and to highlight the importance of regular testing to identify early signs of the condition.

The most obvious symptoms of AMD are distortion and blurring in the centre of vision and the earlier a person identifies that they have a problem with their sight, the sooner they can make the adjustments which will help them maintain a full and independent life.

This year’s AMD Awareness Week has been running since last Saturday to promote early detection of the signs of age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of registered blindness in Ireland. Throughout awareness week, which ends this Sunday, free testing will be available to detect the early signs of AMD at a range of locations nationwide and a Novartis mobile testing unit will visit venues in Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford.


Further information about AMD and free testing locations are available at amd.ie


An audio version of this supplement is available at irishtimes.com/health

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