Health Beat: Saving sight without surgery: Macular holes

Health Beat: Saving sight without surgery: Macular holes

There's a new way doctors are saving sight without surgery.

Doctors say one common reason for vision loss is macular holes. They happen when fibers in the eye pull away and tear the retina. People used to have to have surgery for this, but now there's a new option.

While cruising the Caribbean, Catherine Brown realized what she thought had been a problem with her TV was actually a problem with her eyes. 

"It just wasn't going away, and I couldn't blame the television anymore. It was me. It was clearly me," said Brown, who had macular holes, small breaks in the center of the retina that cause blind spots and visual distortions.

"They notice that it's almost like a fun house mirror effect sometimes when they look at people," said Dr. Julia Haller, ophthalmologist-in-chief at Wills Eye Institute.

In the past, the only option for patients was surgery, but Haller said a drug recently approved by the FDA, Jetrea, could help them avoid it. 

"It's really, it's miraculous," exclaimed Brown.

Jetrea is injected directly into the eye.  It basically breaks down proteins that cause the condition.

Two clinical studies showed the drug closed macular holes in 26 percent of participants. That's one in four patients who didn't need surgery.

"It's like night and day. Within a few days, your symptoms are gone. You've got recovery of vision," said Haller.

Brown's macular holes are healed. Now, this church pianist doesn't have to pray for a miracle anymore.

Researchers hope the drug could one day be used to treat other common eye conditions, like macular degeneration.  

The most common side effects of Jetrea are blurry vision and eye floaters. Researchers hope the drug could one day be used to treat other common eye conditions, like macular degeneration and diabetes-related eye issues. Clinical trials to test the drug on those conditions are in the works.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Julia Haller about saving sight without surgery

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