Health Beat: Macular degeneration: Implantable telescope improves vision

Posted: 12:54 PM EDT Jun 05, 2013   Updated: 5:53 PM EDT Jun 05, 2013
Implantable telescope

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in Americans over 60. In the past, there haven't been many treatment options, but that could all be changing.

Macular degeneration is a chronic eye disease that causes vision loss, mainly in the center of your field of vision. 

Jackie Carswell's vision was stolen by the disease. She couldn't see the center of anything she looked at. 

“I couldn’t read a recipe.  I couldn’t work a microwave.  I just couldn’t hardly do anything," said Carswell. "I asked the doctor one day. I said, 'Is there anything, anything else that might can be done for this?'"

Doctors suggested she try a 'miniature telescope.'

Dr. Susan Primo, director of vision and optical services at Emory Eye Center, said the eye telescope "contains lenses or optics that make an image magnified.”

Carswell decided to try it, so surgeons removed her natural lens and replaced it with the tiny implant that enlarges objects.

"It's a three-times telescope, which means, theoretically, it improves vision by almost three-times," Primo explained.

The telescope is implanted in only one eye. 

"Now these folks are bi-ocular. One eye for one thing, one eye for the other," Primo said.

It takes about 12 weeks of training and rehab for patients to master the new device.

In one study, nine out of 10 patients with the telescopic implant improved vision by at least two lines on the eye chart.

It's worked for Carswell. The telescopic implant is helping Jackie keep a lot of her independence. 

"I was determined that I’d make it, and I’d do it, and I have and I am!" she said.

The telescope implant is FDA-approved for patients 75 and older.  The most common risks include inflammatory deposits on the device and increased pressure in the eye.

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