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New test spots macular degeneration

October 21, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness in people over the age of 60. Now a new test is shining a light on the disease before it takes over. Slowly, over the past several years, macular degeneration wiped away vision in Axel Johnson's right eye.

"I didn't even realize that I had this, you know -- that it was building up in that eye," said Johnson.

It's an age-related degenerative disease that develops when the retina doesn't get enough nutrients. There are two forms -- dry and wet.

"If macular degeneration progresses to wet macular degeneration and goes through its natural course, it will cause scarring in the retina and irreversible permanent loss of vision," said ophthalmologist Dr. William F. Varr.

Patients typically relied on this grid to test themselves.

"The problem with that test is that the patient has to do it on their own and to get patient compliance sometimes is difficult. It's sometimes difficult for them to see a change," said Dr. Varr.

This new computerized test, called the Foresee PHP, helps doctors treat the disease sooner.

It shows a series of linear dots in a pattern, and the patient has to point out if any are out of place. Then the computer registers the patient's eye sight.

"It is more accurate in that it has a higher sensitivity level. It will detect a change from the dry macular degeneration to the wet faster or at an earlier stage," said Dr. Varr.

"As you get older you want to be able to get in that car and go anywhere," said Axel Johnson.

Axel plans on taking the test several times a year. For this 81-year-old, the goal is to preserve what's left of his vision and his quality of life.

The old test relies on patient's compliance, so it's hard for doctors to keep track from year to year.

With this new test, a computer records the data and doctors will be able to detect even the smallest changes in a patient's macula over time.


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