What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular Degeneration usually occurs in people over 60. There are two types of macular degeneration: atrophic (“dry”) and exudative (“wet”). As people age, parts of the retina may deteriorate.
The Effects of Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration affects the area of the retina called the macula, the part of the eye responsible for central vision. A person with this condition has difficulty seeing detailed objects such as small print, faces, or street signs. The affected areas of the macula often cause scotomas, or small central areas of vision loss. These areas may cause objects to appear faded, disappear, or look distorted. Straight lines may look wavy. Peripheral vision is not affected and macular degeneration does not cause total blindness.
Possible Causes and Risk Factors
Although the cause of this condition is not clear, possible causes and risk factors may include: lack of certain vitamins and minerals, breakdown in circulation to the retina, untreated health conditions such as high blood pressure, excessive exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun, heredity, and cigarette smoking.
Diagnosing Macular Degeneration
Your eye care doctor can diagnose macular degeneration during a comprehensive eye examination. Ophthalmoscopy is a procedure that allows your doctor to view the back of your eye, including the macula. If macular degeneration is suspected, a fluorescein angiogram may be performed. In this procedure, dye is injected into your arm and travels to the eye. Damaged areas become highlighted to help determine which type of macular degeneration is present, wet or dry.
Treating Macular Degeneration
In wet macular degeneration, new blood vessels growing near the macula may leak or bleed. If this type is present, laser treatment can help to seal the leaky vessels, but cannot repair damage that has already occurred. Laser treatment is not helpful for dry macular degeneration. Many patients with either type of macular degeneration can benefit from low vision rehabilitation. Optical devices can be prescribed to help you use your remaining vision more effectively. Some vitamin supplements appear helpful for macular degeneration as well. Your doctor can give you further information and refer you to a low vision care provider.
For a comprehensive online resource on macular degeneration, please see the Macular Degeneration Partnership website at www.amd.net.