Part of our series on healthy senior living. Some of our region’s eye experts are on the cutting edge of technological and procedural advancements. From simple injections to surgical treatments, eye care has never been more painless and successful for seniors.
Disorders of the retina are some of the most common eye diseases and causes for vision loss in older adults.
“Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness over the age of 65, and for those under the age of 65, it’s diabetes-related complications,” says Dr. Susan Fowell, an ophthalmologist with Northern Illinois Retina, 1235 N. Mulford Road, in Rockford. “We take care of both.”
Fowell is fellowship trained in medical and surgical treatments for diseases of the retina and macula, and she has the experience to treat the many age-related complications that can cause vision loss.
For 25 years, Northern Illinois Retina has been a leading practitioner in the treatment of diseases related to the macula and the retina. Staff at this full-time, full-service facility care for and treat patients throughout the week.
Your retina is a thin lining on the back of your eye that collects and sends visual images to your brain. At the center of the retina is the macula, a small area that controls sharp, clear vision. Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) occurs when the macula deteriorates; it’s diagnosed in either a dry or wet form. The more common “dry” form is characterized by the development of yellow spots under the retina, pigment epithelial atrophy and clumping. The far less-common “wet” form, which affects about 10 percent of patients, is characterized by the growth of abnormal blood vessels below the macula that leak blood and fluid.
One of the newest ways to treat ARMD is with intravitreal injections of anti-vascular endothelial growth factor, or anti-VEGF, drugs. Northern Illinois Retina is one of the few facilities to offer a full supply of drugs available on the market, with choices including Avastin, Lucentis and Eylea.
Intravitreal injections actually have supplanted the treatment of many conditions, such as retinal vascular diseases related to hypertension, central vein occlusions, branch vein occlusions and diabetes-related complications. Occasionally, thermal laser therapies and photodynamic treatments can be used for specific cases of ARMD, says Fowell, but those, too, have mostly been replaced by injections.
“Our concern for the patient’s well-being is first and foremost,” says Fowell. “We don’t let the economics drive our decisions; we make the decisions for the patients. Northern Illinois Retina is the only full-time local practice giving these injections.”
In January 2015, Northern Illinois Retina moved to its current location at the Cornerstone Building to accommodate an increased flow of patients receiving intravitreal injections. The larger first-floor office is also more easily accessible for patients with disabilities and mobility issues.
Northern Illinois Retina treats other common eye conditions for seniors, including retinal detachments, retinal tears, uveitis and other types of eye inflammation.
“No one else in town is really treating uveitis on a regular basis like we do,” says Fowell.
Early and proper detection of these conditions is essential to effective treatment. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends an annual eye exam for those over the age of 50, but self-checks can be performed throughout the year.
“You have two eyes, but you’re usually not aware of changes in one of your eyes because both eyes are open and working together most of the time,” says Fowell. “So, the only way you’re going to pick up on something happening in one eye is to close the other and look at the same thing, one eye at a time, to make sure they work the same. If you do that and see there’s a difference, you need to get it checked.”
ARMD is one of the few conditions linked to nutritional deficiencies, says Fowell, so supplemental vitamins and diet alterations can help to prevent and slow its progression. She recommends eating more dark, leafy vegetables, more antioxidant-filled fruits and more fish than red meat in order to get the zinc, lutein and omega-3 fatty acids proven to help the condition.
High-Tech, Specialized Surgeries
Dr. Richard Miller and his staff at Miller Eye Center, 2995 Eastrock Drive in Rockford, promise their patients the best eye treatment and care that three decades of experience can deliver.
As an ophthalmology surgeon, Miller leads the surgical and medical treatment of many common age-related eye and vision problems, including cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), glaucoma, floaters and dry eye. For many of these conditions, Miller Eye Center offers specialized, advanced-technology treatments unique in the region.
One such treatment is related to the care of cataracts, a condition that develops when clumps of proteins cloud the eye lens and affect vision – often an effect of aging. According to the National Eye Institute, more than half of Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery by the age of 80. While some specialized eyeglass lenses can relieve symptoms, surgery is the only effective treatment. During such an operation, the eye lens is removed and replaced with an implant.
“Cataract surgery with astigmatism correction and advanced technology implants, such as the ReSTOR lenses, are the most popular treatments for cataracts,” says Miller.
In fact, Miller was the No. 1 implanter of ReSTOR lenses in Illinois in 2014. He has performed thousands of advanced-technology implants with 93 percent of patients not needing glasses after surgery.
When it comes to ARMD, Dr. Ahmet Ozkok is Miller Eye Center’s fellowship-trained physician specializing in diseases of the retina. Ozkok is trained in 27-gauge vitreoretinal surgery, an operation that is less invasive and allows for faster healing, says Miller.
Also among Miller Eye Center’s new technologies is the IRIDEX yellow laser, which has increased success in the treatment of macular edema, a condition that occurs when fluid and protein collect on or under the macula. The laser can be used when the condition does not improve by other methods.
Glaucoma is another often age-related eye condition, one that damages the optic nerve and affects more than 200,000 new patients every year. This condition, which creates increased pressure on the eye, can be treated with eye drops, lasers or surgery.
Miller Eye offers the newest form of treatment for this condition: minimally invasive glaucoma surgery. Miller has performed more than 200 procedures of this surgery using iStent implants. At the same time, Miller Eye Center’s new MLT laser (micropulse laser trabeculoplasty) is helping in the treatment of primary open-angle glaucoma, for patients who have previously received argon laser trabeculoplasty.
Miller Eye Center houses the only laser in northern Illinois approved by the FDA for the removal of eye floaters. This laser allows for a quick procedure, says Miller, and it’s often covered by Medicare and private insurance.
Eye floaters are little shadowy shapes that move in your field of vision as your eyes move, and they increase in number with age. Treatment is recommended when floaters become so dense and numerous that they affect normal vision.
Dry eye is another common age-related condition, affecting up to 20 percent of seniors, says Miller. This condition can worsen with age and be caused by a range of other conditions. Miller’s team offers diagnostic testing.
“Miller Eye Center welcomes and accommodates senior patients with our wheelchair-accessible clinic and additional wheelchairs available upon request,” says Miller. “Coming in the near future, we are looking to provide van transportation for patients as well.”