Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the United States and many European countries. The neovascular "wet" form of the disease is responsible for most (90%) severe loss of vision. There are approximately 200,000 new cases of wet macular degeneration in the United States each year.
The average age of patients with the wet form of macular degeneration is the mid-70s. It rarely occurs before the age of 50. Wet macular degeneration is more common in Caucasians, but occurs in all races.
The wet form of macular degeneration is usually associated with aging, but other diseases which can cause wet macular degeneration include high myopia (being very nearsighted) and some intraocular infections like histoplasmosis.
The first proven treatment was laser photocoagulation, but only 10-15% of eyes with wet macular degeneration are treatable with laser. Then recurrences after laser treatment are common (70% in 5 years). The average visual acuity 3 years after treatment is usually 20/200 to 20/250. Patients rarely lose all of their vision from macular degeneration. Though they have poor central vision, most can walk around, dress themselves, and perform many of their normal daily tasks.
Since ARMD results in loss or impaired central vision, it is not surprising that the majority of patients either become partially sighted or legally blind. Activities which require good central vision such as reading, writing and carrying out certain domestic tasks are all affected.
Many macular degeneration patients require help to perform activities of daily living. Sometimes, their visual handicap necessitates admission to a nursing home.
The social cost of this handicap is enormous in both personal and social terms. When both eyes are affected, patients experience serious loss of quality of life and independence.
What makes macular degeneration research even more important is that recent evidence suggests that macular degeneration is now a more common cause of permanent visual loss than diabetes.
In recent decades we have witnessed improved technology offering solutions for patients suffering from cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. We have also seen the aging of our patient population. Since the number of patients suffering from blindness due to treatable conditions has fallen dramatically, age-related macular degeneration has become the most pressing "vision-related" public health dilemma in the developed world.