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Judi Dench has degenerative eye condition; says she won't go blind

February 20, 2012|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Judi Dench plays the head of MI6 as M in the James Bond film "Casino Royale." Dench has received treatment for an eye condition known as age-related macular degeneration.
Judi Dench plays the head of MI6 as M in the James Bond film "Casino Royale."… (Jay Maidment / Sony Pictures )

British actress Judi Dench is seeking to downplay fears over the revelation that she is suffering from a degenerative eye condition.

The Oscar-winning Dench, perhaps best known as James Bond's mysterious boss M, has been dealing with two different forms of macular generation -- one in each eye. According to Reuters, she can no longer read scripts and has to have someone read them out loud to her, "like reading me a story."

According to the National Eye Institute, macular degeneration occurs in an area known as the macula, which sits at the center of the light-sensitive tissue known as the retina, located at the back of the eye socket.

There are two kinds of age-related macular degeneration, or AMD: The "dry" type, which occurs when light-sensitive cells in the macula break down, causing the vision to blur. It's the most common kind, making up more than 85% of cases.

The "wet" type occurs when new blood vessels spring up behind the macula, leaking blood and fluid. Wet AMD is rarer and the breakdown more severe than dry AMD. The wet cases also seem to arise from dry AMD -- though doctors aren't yet sure how or why this happens.

Some people may also be genetically predisposed to the condition. Obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol don't help either.

The 77-year-old Dench seems to fall in with many of the risk factors for AMD. People over age 60 have a much higher risk of the disease, as do women, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's far more common in white people than in other groups -- particularly in those over age 75.

Though the disease can lead to loss of eyesight, Dench told Reuters that she was not going to go blind -- she had had "injections," which she said seem to have arrested the disease's progression.  (She's probably referring to a treatment for wet AMD that involves injecting drugs into the eye that block the growth factor fueling the growth of those harmful blood vessels.)

But, the Mayo Clinic explains, such treatments can really only slow it down -- there's no effective way to reverse the damage that's already done.

The best thing to do, then, is probably to catch it as early as possible. The symptoms of wet AMD include seeing straight lines as wavy ones, according to the National Eye Institute; those with dry AMD may start to see blurring around the center of their field of view.

For more information on the disease and treatments, the Mayo Clinic and the Medline (by the National Institutes of Health explain.

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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