What is Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is a breakdown of the macula. The macula is the part of your retina that is responsible for the center of your visual field. It also allows you to see fine details clearly and perform activities such as reading and driving. When the macula is not working well, your central vision can be affected by blurriness, dark areas or distortion. This disease changes your ability to see near and far, and it can make some activities – like threading a needle or reading – difficult or impossible.

What causes Macular Degeneration?

We do not yet know why Macular Degeneration occurs. Many older people develop the disease as part of the body’s natural aging process. It is the leading cause of severe vision loss in Caucasians over age 65.

The two common types of Macular Degeneration are dry and wet. The dry form accounts for 90% of cases and is caused by aging and thinning of the tissues of the macula. It develops slowly and usually causes mild to moderate vision loss. People can have difficulty recognizing faces, and can need more light for reading and other details tasks.

Wet macular degeneration is a much greater threat to vision loss even though it accounts for only 10% of cases. With the wet form of the disease, new blood vessels grow beneath the retina where they leak fluid and blood and can create a large blind spot in the center of your visual field. If this happens, there will be a marked disturbance of vision.

Symptoms of Macular Degeneration

Although Macular Degeneration is more common in people over 60, it is possible to develop symptoms in your 40s or 50s. The condition often runs in families. It can cause different symptoms in different people and can be hardly noticeable in the early stages. The most common symptoms include:

  • Blurry or fuzzy vision
  • Straight lines, such as sentences on a page, telephone poles, and sides of buildings, appear wavy
  • A dark or empty area appears in the center of vision
  • Can be noticeable in one or both eyes

How is Macular Degeneration treated?

Your eye doctor can detect early stages of Macular Degeneration during a comprehensive eye exam. At this time, Macular Degeneration is not curable. The goal is to help the patient see better and to stabilize the condition.

There is no proven treatment for Dry Macular Degeneration. However, recent studies indicate that antioxidants or zinc supplements may reduce the disease’s impact in some people. Avastin injections are now given intra-ocularly to control vessels even when they have grown under the macula.

Even though people who have it experience mild to severe vision loss, Macular Degeneration does not affect peripheral, or side vision. One does not go completely blind. With the help of low vision aids, people can continue to enjoy many of their favorite activities and can still lead normal, independent lives.

To learn more: Facts about Macular Degeneration from the National Eye Institute